Central State Hospital in Milledgeville expects to lay off as many as 280 employees in the next month as the hospital transfers out the last of its patients with developmental disabilities.
Tom Wilson, a spokesman for the state Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities, said Friday the last 15 patients should be transferred to community care by June 30.
Central State Hospital will continue with a forensics unit that handles about 182 people with mental illness, and a nursing home that cares for about 138 patients, Wilson said.
The number of job losses could have been higher, but 80 employees at the historic state hospital left on their own in the last month as the number of patients declined, Wilson said.
The number of employees has declined quite a bit in the past six months as weve been making this concerted effort, and the doctors and the nurses have gone to find other work, Wilson said.
Central State Hospitals total employment Friday was 1,439 workers, down from about 1,900 three years ago, said Kristie Swink, a spokeswoman with the Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities. The layoffs represent about one-fifth of the remaining employees at the hospital.
Patients with developmental disabilities have been getting transferred to other settings, sometimes back to their parents homes or group home settings. That can improve the quality of life, such as letting people go to church more easily, Wilson said.
The quality of care is the same or better, but anecdotally, a lot of people flourish, Wilson said.
Among them is a man returning to Macon after spending more than 20 years, a majority of his life, at Central State, said Swink, who could discuss few details of his life because of confidentiality reasons. Swink said the man is excited to be in a new group home, with full front and back yards and a room of his own, close to his aging parents who often visited him.
But the announcement casts more gloom upon Baldwin Countys economy.
Baldwin Countys unemployment rate was 11.8 percent in April, the latest month available, with 15,508 people working. Five years ago, before the recession hit and Milledgeville lost major government and private employers, the unemployment rate was 5 percent with 19,961 people working.
Milledgeville Mayor Richard Bentley said the community is working hard to bring more jobs to the area. A public-private prison is about to expand, and the community has been looking at redevelopment efforts.
Weve lost upwards of 2,500, 3,000 jobs over the past three or four years, and were replacing them 100 or 200 jobs at a time, Bentley said Friday.
The Georgia Department of Labor will be on site this month to help affected employees. Wilson said perhaps two dozen people may be able to find work elsewhere within Central State Hospital, but he acknowledged many skilled staffers would need to move to find work.
We have a lot of people who worked really hard to make it possible for these people to move into community settings and have a better life, Wilson said. The excitement of that is tempered by people who worked a long time in the hospital and have to find different positions.
To contact writer Mike Stucka, call 744-4251.