Springfield Hospital workers, local business leaders question Hogan over proposed job cuts

Tracey Hundertmark was in the middle of cooking dinner for about 250 patients at Springfield Hospital Center in Carroll County one evening when she was called off the line and handed a letter informing her that her job had been slated for elimination.

She'd be out of work starting June 30 under Gov. Larry Hogan's $42 billion proposed state budget.


The 51-year-old state employee, who has worked full-time at Springfield for eight years, returned to the kitchen but struggled to control her emotions.

"I just kind of internalized it for an hour and a half," she said, "and then I went home and bawled."


Hundertmark is one of 57 low-level state workers at the psychiatric hospital — an economic anchor in the Sykesville community for generations — whose jobs will vanish at the end of the fiscal year under a plan in Hogan's proposed budget to privatize food services at the facility.

The move, which the state health department has said would save $1 million, has been questioned by legislative leaders in Annapolis who cite the fact that the state is projected to have a $400 million surplus this year.

On Saturday, several business leaders gathered with Springfield employees and union officials with AFSCME District 3 at the Sykesville Freedom District Fire Department to voice hope that the plans will be abandoned.

Matthew A. Clark, a Hogan spokesman, has said the administration is working to make sure employees who lose their jobs find new ones, in state government or elsewhere. He said Hogan is "focused on making sure every state agency runs as efficiently as possible while delivering the best service to taxpayers."

But in Carroll County, which voted overwhelmingly for Hogan in 2014, skepticism has spread, including among business owners who say the savings aren't worth the cost to families who rely on the jobs to pay mortgages, cover loans and raise children.

Chris Rachuba, 49, who works in real estate and whose family owns a local apartment complex, said one of his employee's daughters would lose her job under the plan, as would some of his tenants.

"I've always been a big supporter of Hogan, but certainly when things start to affect our community, I'd like him to reconsider and see if he can do something to keep the jobs here," Rachuba said.

Another Hogan supporter, Jim Zumbrun, 32, who helps run his family's funeral home nearby, called the proposed savings "peanuts" for the state.

"It kind of burns me up, being a local guy, watching people who bust their humps have everything they've worked their entire lives for taken away," he said.

Hundertmark said she makes about $27,000 a year as a cook but relies on state health benefits to pay for her daughter's medical procedures and prescriptions. She worries that finding another job, especially one with health benefits robust enough to cover her daughter's needs, will be impossible at her age.

"It's a scary thing looking for a job this late in your career," she said.

Hundertmark and others said they assumed their jobs would be secure as long as they showed up, worked hard and interacted well with the hospital patients.


"You always believe in the back of your mind that a state job is a more secure job," said Jiten Shah, 59, an inventory overseer who has worked at the hospital for 17 years. "You would never anticipate that such a thing would happen."

Shah, who makes about $31,000, said he has a mortgage and loans after struggling to put two kids through college, and also fears searching for another job at his age. He also worries for the hospital's mentally ill patients, he said, who he believes will struggle with the replacement of all the workers they have learned to trust.

"If they see me, they come and hug me. It's a bond. We are a part of the treatment for these patients," he said.

The cuts could also backfire, he said, because people will lose their homes, default on loans, and claim unemployment and food stamps. "Ultimately, it's going to be a burden on the state."

Fred Foote, 40, who started as a supervisor at the hospital three months ago, said he was blindsided by the announcement that he may soon be out of work. He questioned Hogan's rationale.

"I'm a Republican, and I voted for the man," he said. "But when you look at the individuals and the money, it doesn't make sense."


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