Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

Social Services Workers Unhappy

Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

Social Services Workers Unhappy

Article excerpt

Frustrations are rising at Bergen County's Board of Social Services, where longtime employees say that increased workload, inefficient systems and understaffing are harming their ability to help clients in a timely manner.

That dissatisfaction boiled earlier this month when an overflow crowd of 90 current and former employees packed a meeting asking that something be done to address the situation.

Several employees were irked that the board in December hired Alex Morales, a $140,000-a-year interim management consultant from Hialeah, Fla., after going a year with an acting director. His job is to spend a year evaluating the operation and suggest ways to improve them.

"Without legitimate leadership, knowledgeable leadership, this place is functioning not because of you, but despite you," Maria Aberasturi, a social work supervisor, told the board at a Jan. 15 meeting.

Morales has recommended changes that some employees say they have been urging for years to no avail. But others say the changes he has suggested in his first seven weeks on the job don't address what they see as the biggest problem: understaffing.

"It's not that we don't want to do the work -- we just can't," Carol Camizzi, an intake worker told the board. "We know people are desperate and we're frustrated by the volume of cases we have and the lack of personnel makes it nearly impossible to do it all.

"We need help," she added. "And for whatever reason, we're not getting it."

Others, however, say the problems with the department have as much to do with outdated systems as with staffing levels.

Freeholder John Felice, who was chairman of the Board of Social Services for two years until this month, said he thinks Morales will address the staffing issue as well as modernize the way the department works.

The agency has about 218 employees and an annual budget of about $40 million. The board serves as a conduit for about $480 million in state and federal benefits such as Medicaid, food stamps and Temporary Aid to Needy Families.

Felice said one area sorely in need of modernization is the building the agency occupies in an office park on Route 17 north in Rochelle Park.

"The configuration of the building was acceptable in the 1970s, but not today," said Felice. He noted that clients have to be escorted by security guards one at a time from an often-crowded waiting room in the lobby to an upstairs floor.

The lease on the current building expires in 2014 and the board has hired a real estate consultant to look at possible locations. …

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