Pay raise for Texas State Hospital and SSLC employees

AUSTIN (KXAN) — The Health and Human Services Commission is raising salaries and starting wages at state mental hospitals and state residential centers to address chronic understaffing, turnover and bed shortages, the agency said on Tuesday.

“The starting salary increase will help recruit and hire potential HHSC employees, help us fully staff and serve more people in need,” said Scott Schalchlin, HHSC Deputy Executive Commissioner for Health and Specialty Care, in a press release.

HHSC is trying to fill almost 4,000 vacancies, including more than 1,800 in public hospitals and 2,100 in government-supported residential centers or SSLCs.

“For example, a registered nurse with three years of experience might start at $90,000 a year. Psychiatric Nurse Assistants and Direct Support Specialists will start at $17.50 to $21 an hour, depending on experience. Caterers start at $13.94 an hour,” according to HHSC.

KXAN has been reporting a lot of problems caused by HHSC staffing issues. More than 770 beds are currently disabled in public hospitals. Without these free beds, more than 2,500 people with criminal charges and found incompetent to stand trial were put on waiting lists and held in county jails for months or years until a bed becomes available, according to the most recent status data available in December.

Public hospitals serve people with mental illness. According to government figures, about two-thirds of public hospital beds are used for those involved in the criminal justice system, with the remaining third dedicated to civil obligations.

Pay increases for 7,855 public hospital staff positions and nearly 11,800 SSLC positions will go into effect March 1. SSLCs provide services and support to people with developmental and intellectual disabilities. There are 13 SSLCs in the state.

Jobs available throughout Texas including Abilene, Austin, Big Spring, Brenham, Corpus Christi, Denton, El Paso, Kerrville, Lubbock, Lufkin, Mexia, Richmond, Harlingen, Rusk, San Angelo, San Antonio, Terrell , Vernon, Waco and Wichita Falls.

old problem

Staffing problems plagued HHSC for many years. Bed shortages and understaffing increased dramatically with the onset of the pandemic in March 2020. Last January, HHSC announced signing bonuses for certain positions, including $5,000 for new registered nurses, $3,500 for some licensed professional nurses, and $2,500 for psychiatric nurse assistants.

Shortly before HHSC announced these awards, Schalkhlin told the advisory committee that they were struggling to hire because he was getting fewer applications. Before the pandemic, HHSC received about 15,000 applications per month. That number dropped to around 6,000 in early 2022, he said.

Among government agencies with more than 1,000 employees, HHSC ranks third in terms of employee turnover. HHSC is second only to the Department of Juvenile Justice and the Department of Criminal Justice, which manage state prisons, according to a Government Audit Service turnover study released in March 2022.

HHSC’s FY 2021 average headcount was just under 37,000, with an overall turnover rate of 27%. The state audit shows that the positions with the highest turnover at HHSC were those of direct support specialists with 54% percent, psychiatric nurse assistants with 50% and nurses with 25%.

According to HHSC surveys, the most common reasons for leaving the agency were retirement, poor working conditions, the environment, and better pay and benefits elsewhere, the audit found.

HHSC vacancies

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