Massachusetts: State details health service cuts -Governor plans to sell state land, mass layoffs

by Elisabeth J. Beardsley
Boston Herald

Friday, March 21, 2003

Massachusetts - Gov. Mitt Romney's top health officials offered details for the first time yesterday on his plan to save $90 million by shaking up the sprawling human services bureaucracy - including mass layoffs, selling nearly 600 acres of state land and closing three facilities.

Romney has previously hinted that his plan would put people out of work in the human services sector, but his aides yesterday put the number of layoffs at 201 and said that's ``just a start.''

The targeted workers include 15 attorneys, 27 human resource employees, 86 financial and operating officers, 53 accountants and 15 information technology workers, according to documents filed with the Legislature's Human Services Committee.

The initial downsizing would save $24.3 million, but more layoffs are expected if lawmakers approve the reorganization plan, said Executive Office of Health and Human Services spokesman Dick Powers.

``It's all the backroom functions,'' Powers said. ``It won't have any effect at all on the frontline workers who are providing services to clients.''

Human service advocates looked skeptically at Romney's claim that he doesn't harm service recipients - pointing to major fee hikes in services for the retarded, and steep proposed reductions in services for seniors, the disabled and at-risk infants.

``We're clearly cutting services,'' said Human Services Coalition Director Stephen Collins. ``There is much about the reorg plan that tastes great, but is indeed less filling.''

Romney's overall restructuring plan calls for collapsing dozens of disparate human service agencies into four main ``clusters.''

The plan counts on $60 million in recurring annual consolidation savings - via the layoffs and facility closures - as well as $30 million in one-time revenues from selling state properties.

The three facilities targeted for closure, all of which serve the mentally ill and retarded, are the Fernald School in Waltham, the Solomon Mental Health Center in Lowell, and Worcester State Hospital.

Administration officials also laid out the details on 567 acres of state-owned land that Romney hopes to sell for more than $30 million - including two huge tracts in Wrentham and Medfield.

The Department of Mental Retardation has 200 acres in Wrentham that Romney estimates could fetch $18 million, and the Department of Mental Retardation has 148 acres in Medfield valued at $16.3 million.

Romney is also looking to sell off smaller properties in Tewksbury, Canton, Westfield, Waltham, Taunton and Shrewsbury, according to administration memos.


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