Last week, Executive Councilor Colin Van Ostern visited with workers at the Manchester DHHS District Office and the Sununu Youth Services Center to get a better sense of the critical work they do every day.
The next governor will propose a budget to fund DHHS and SYSC, both of which have seen cuts in recent budgets. David Burns, a Chapter 45 member and attorney for the Department of Children, Youth and Families out of Manchester, said it’s critical that the next governor understands the work state employees do.
“Right now, state employees — especially at DHHS, but really all over — are facing a lot of challenges,” Burns said. “It’s pretty important to us that there is a candidate out there who’s paying attention, who’s sensitive to the issues and is willing to take them on.”
Karen Crowley, who’s a weekend nurse at SYSC and the acting president of Chapter 21, said their concerns in meeting Van Ostern were similar.
“Our hope was to make sure he sees that we’re not a jail — we’re a treatment facility,” she said. “The Legislature has the wrong idea of what we do here.”
Burns said in talking with Van Ostern, the candidate seemed very concerned about the work he and his colleagues do, but he was also able to speak to a range of issues they deal with.
“He showed a pretty solid command of some of the Medicaid issues, and he was able to speak to us about the drug related issue we face every day,” Burns said. “The opioid crisis is something we deal with all the time, and he showed an understanding of that.”
Burns said it’s important that politicians make this kind of outreach.
“For the folks who are in the trenches, they want to know that the folks at the head of the department or the head of state government are in touch with them,” he said. “It’s something I really appreciate.”
Crowley said there need to be more interactions like this, even meeting with the teens in the facility. She highlighted that teens in the facility have visited the new Job Corps facility and more than a dozen have graduated over the past year.
“It’s sad that they’re here, but when they’re here we’re going to give them the tools they need so they have options once they get out,” she said.
To do that, they need adequate funding, Crowley said. If the state doesn’t commit resources to them while they’re younger, the state will likely have to commit even greater resources if they go to prison. But when they do things right at SYSC, Crowley said, the teens can succeed.
“It’s not an easy job, and it’s often a thankless job,” Crowley said. “But those who come back to see us and say ‘thank you’ are the ones we’re doing it for.”