177 Central State workers could lose jobs

ATLANTA — More than 175 Central State Hospital employees in Milledgeville will be out of a job come April 15 unless they find work at another state hospital — or another job — by then.

The jobs are going away as part of the closure of the hospital’s adult mental health section, located in the Powell Building. The state began shutting down that building earlier this year, and the last patients left nearly two weeks ago, according to the Georgia Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities.

The Powell Building once had 260 employees. But it was just too old and too out of date to serve the mentally ill, especially with federal regulators finding problem after problem with the building, the department has said.

The state is making changes to its system with federal oversight, and it has been for some time now. A series of suspicious deaths in state facilities led to that review.

Some of the 177 people being phased out in Milledgeville will probably be hired for other jobs on the campus, department spokesman Tom Wilson said Tuesday. But those jobs aren’t guaranteed, and employees have to be qualified for them.

There are about 70 jobs the department wants to fill on the campus, and about 50 of those are for registered nurses, Wilson said. Other positions will be made available at the state’s Augusta hospital facility, where some patients ended up after being moved from the Powell Building.

There are “probably around 50” jobs there, Wilson said.

The state has struggled to keep a full staff — and particularly full nursing staffs — at its mental hospitals. That’s one of the major complaints federal regulators have had as they review the states’ public hospital system.

The state Department of Labor will also meet with employees who are losing their jobs to talk about unemployment benefits and other job opportunities, Wilson said.

Employees who don’t get other jobs with the state will get 30 days of benefits after they lose their jobs April 15, Wilson said. Some affected employees are close to retirement, and they may be able to retire early, he said.

To contact writer Travis Fain, call 361-2702.