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YCQM - Doug Racine - September 25, 2011 - WCAX.COM Local Vermont News, Weather and Sports-

YCQM - Doug Racine - September 25, 2011

September 25, 2011 -- Vt. Human Services Secretary Doug Racine joins Darren Perron and Keith McGilvery to discuss flood recovery.

>> GOOD MORNING. I'M DARREN PERRON. WE HAVE DOUG RACINE WITH US FROM THE HUMAN SERVICES SECRETARY. LET'S START WITH THE FUTURE OF THE OFFICE COMPLEX IN WATERBURY. THAT IS WHAT YOUR OFFICE IS AND THE AGENCY IS. WHAT IS A LATEST FROM IRENE?

>> WE ARE NOT IN THE BUILDINGS THERE AND QUITE SOME TIME BEFORE WE CAN. THE STATE GOVERNMENT IS DOING AN EVALUATION. THE SECRETARY OF THE ADMINISTRATION, THEY ARE LOOKING AT THE BUILDING AND HOW MUCH IT IS GOING TO COST TO BRING IT BACK TO BEING USEABLE AGAIN. IT IS UNCERTAIN IF WE CAN GET BACK IN AND INVEST IN THAT FACILITY, EVEN IF WE GO BACK IN, IT IS AN OLD BUILDING, AND IT IS STILL SITTING IN A FLOOD PLAIN. THOSE DECIDES ARE BEING MADE BY THE GOVERNOR AND THE ADMINISTRATION. IT IS GOING TO TAKE TIME. AND MAYBE JANUARY BEFORE A DECISION IS MADE.

>> MAYBE YOU CAN EXPLAIN HOW SERIOUS THE DAMAGE IS. WE HAVE SEEN VIDEO COMING OUT OF THERE, SENDING CREWS DOWN. IT IS LOOKING EXTENSIVE.

>> THERE IS A TUNNEL COMPLEX ON A LOWER FLOOR, THAT WAS COMPLETELY UNDER WATER. AND OFFICES ARE DOWN THERE. THE SERVER ROOM FOR THE COMPUTER EQUIPMENT WAS DONE THERE AND IN SOME PARTS OF THE BIDDING IS WATER CAME TO THE FIRST FLOOR AND WE HAD TO KEEP PEOPLE OUT OF THOSE PARTS OF THE BUILDING, SERIOUS DAMAGE IN THOSE BUILDING. WILL IS FOUNDATION DAMAGE AND ELECTRICAL HAS TO BE REPLACED AND ISSUES OF MOLD AND CLEANING UP ALL THE TOXIC DEBRIS THAT WAS FLOATING IN THE WATER. IT WAS IN TOUGH SHAPE. WHEN WE WENT BACK IN TO CLEAR OUT THE OFFICES WE ONLY STAYED NOR A SHORT TIME AND STAYED OUT.

>> THIS IS WHERE YOUR OFFICE IS AND A NUMBER OF EMPLOYEES WITH THE AGENCIES AND WHERE ARE THE FOLKS NOW.

>> MOST ARE BACK TO WORK. OUR AGENCY HAD 800, 900 PEOPLE IN THAT FACILITY. SO WHAT WE HAVE BEEN DOING THE FINDING TEMPORARY SPACE AND WORKING WITH THE DEPARTMENT OF BUILDINGS AND GENERAL SERVICES. FINDING TEMPORARY SPACE TO LEASE. MY OFFICE RIGHT IS IN WILLUSTON AND WE ARE MOVING INTO AN USED BUILDING OF IBM AND OTHER SPOTS IN CENTRAL VERMONT. SO WE ARE SCATTERED FROM WHERE WE WERE. THE LAST COUNT WAS MAYBE UP TO 50 PEOPLE ARE STILL NOT BACK AT WORK.

>> WE HAVE SEEN THE VIDEO WHERE THE PEOPLE ARE BEING SHOE HORNED, PEOPLE FROM THE TAX DEPARTMENT WORKING OUT AFTER A BASEMENT THERE.

>> WE ARE DOING A LOT OF SHOE HORNING. TWO OF THE SIX DEPARTMENTS IN HUMAN SERVICES WERE NOT AFFECTED. ONE IS MEDICAID WORK AND THE DEPARTMENT OF HEALTH IS IN BURLINGTON AND SOME OF THE WORKERS ARE THERE. SOME WORKERS WENT TO THE DISTRICT OFFICES. HUMAN SERVICES SCATTERED AROUND THE STATE. SOME ARE CORRECTIONAL OFFICERS IN THE FACILITIES. WE HAVE DISTRICT OFFICES THROUGHOUT THE STATE AND A LOT OF FOLKS FOUND SPACE THERE TEMPORARILY. WE HAVE DON'T HAVE A LOT OF EMPTY DESKS IN THE STATE. WE HAVE DONE THAT TEMPORARILY AND AS WE GET THE LEASED SPACE UP AND FITTED UP AND WITH TELEPHONES AND COMPUTER HOOKUPS AND MOVING SOME OF THE FOLKS TO BERT BETTER SPACES.

>> THE REGIONAL OFFICES WERE NOT AFFECTED?

>> NO.

>> WHAT ABOUT AT ONE POINT WE HEARD THAT ESSENTIAL EMPLOYEES, AND MAYBE EXPLAIN WHO THOSE ARE, ARE WORKING AT HOME.

>> THAT IS NOT HAPPENING. THERE ARE A NUMBER OF THINGS THAT AFFECT PUBLIC SAFETY OR IMPACT PEOPLE'S LIVES. THE FIRST THING IS THE STATE HOSPITAL WAS BEING FLOODED. WE HAD TO MOVE PEOPLE FROM THE FIRST FLOOR THAT FILLED UP WITH WATER, AND MOVED THEM TO THE SECOND FLOOR AND ON MONDAY MORNING WE DISBURSED THEM TO OTHER LOCATIONS IN THE STATE. WE ALSO DO TAKE HANDLE CALLS FROM PEOPLE WHO ARE REPORTING POTENTIAL ABUSE AND NEGLECT OF CHILDREN OR ELDERLY AND DISABILITIES AND SOME OF THAT WORK WAS BEING DONE FROM HOME. THE INVESTIGATIONS ARE BEING DONE FROM THE DISTRICT OFFICES. THOSE IMPORTANT PARTS OF THE STATE GOVERNMENT CONTINUED. MAYBE A LITTLE SLOWER BECAUSE THE SYSTEMS WERE NOT IN PLACE.

>> NOW REVISIT THE STATE HOSPITAL ISSUE, AS YOU MENTIONED THE PLACE FLOODED AND FOLKS WHO ARE ACCUSED OF CRIMES ARE THERE AND THERE ARE FOLKS CONCERNED ABOUT SAFETY, WHERE ARE THESE FOLKS NOW AND HOW ARE YOU ADDRESSING THOSE CONCERNS?

>> NOT EVERYONE IN THE STATE HOSPITAL IS ACCUSED OF A CRIME. SOME FOLKS ARE SERIOUSLY ILL AND IN A MENTAL HEALTH CRISIS. WHICH IS A SECURE FACILITY. SOME OF THE INDIVIDUALS ARE IN OUR COMMUNITY HOSPITALS, FLETCHER HAS SOME, THAT IS A SECURE FACILITY. SOME ARE AT THE CORRECTIONAL FACILITY IN SPRINGFIELD AND THEY HAVE MENTAL HEALTH WARDS IN THAT PRISON. WE HAVE SOME INDIVIDUALS THERE AND SOME OF THE PATIENTS AT THE RETREAT. IT IS SET UP FOR THAT. SOME OF THOSE ARE SECURE IN TERMS OF THE FACILITY AND ALL STAFFED BY OUR STATE HOSPITAL NURSES AND TECHNICIANS WORKING TOGETHER WITH WHOEVER WAS AT THE SITES TO BEGIN WITH.

>> THE AGENCY DOESN'T HAVE PLANS TO KEEP THESE PEOPLE IN THOSE LOCATIONS?

>> THEY ARE NOT IDEAL LOCATIONS. THE RETREAT IS AN IDEAL LOCATION. BUT THE SPRINGFIELD AND THE TWO HOSPITALS REALLY NOT AN APPROPRIATE PLACES FOR A LOT OF THE INDIVIDUALS AND WE ARE TRYING TO FIND A PLACE TO MOVE THOSE PATIENTS, AND THAT IS NOT EASILY DONE. WE HAVE A FACILITY THAT WE USE A STEP DOWN FROM STATE HOSPITAL AND PEOPLE ARE READY TO MOVE TO A LESS RESTRICTIVE SETTING, BUT NOT READY QUITE TO GET BACK HOME, THAT IS CALLED SECOND SPRING AND THEY ARE ACCOMMODATING A FEW OF THE PATIENTS. WE ARE STRUGGLING RIGHT NOW. THE COMMISSIONER OLIVER IS SPENDING ALL OF HER DAYS GOING AROUND THE LOCATIONS IN THE STATE AND TRYING TO FIND CON REINVESTIGATE SETTINGS, WHETHER IT IS NURSING HOMES OR OTHER HOSPITALS OR OLD SCHOOLS THAT MIGHT BE APPROPRIATE IF WE DO A LITTLE WORK TO SECURE THEM AND LOCATE SOME OF THE PATIENTS THERE. BUT THESE ARE TEMPORARY MEASURES. THESE ARE NOT PERMANENT SOLUTIONS TO CLOSING DOWN TO STATE HOSPITAL. WE HAVE A PLAN IN PLACE THAT WE HAVE BEEN WORKING ON AND THE GOVERNOR IS FOCUSSED ON REPLACING THE STATE HOSPITAL AND THIS IS ACCELERATING THOSE PLANS. WE HAVE A PLAN FOR A LONG TERM SOLUTION, RIGHT NOW WE HAVE TO FIND THE PIECES THAT WILL FIT SO THAT WE CAN HAVE SAFE AND SECURE PLACES FOR OUR PATIENTS BETWEEN NOW AND WHEN WE HAVE A NEW FACILITIES IN PLACE.

>> SO IT IS SOUNDING LIKE THE PATIENTS ARE NOT GOING BACK TO WATT YOU AREBURY. THE PLAN IS TO CLOSE THAT FACILITY?

>> THAT IS THE PLAN. BUT EVERYTHING IS ON THE TABLE. THE GOVERNOR IS CLEAR WITH ME AND ALL OF US HE DOESN'T THINK IT IS A WISE USE OF THE TAXPAYER MONEY TO PUT THAT FACILITIES. HE'S PUSHING ON US TO LOOK AT THE VARIOUS OPTIONS, THE ALTERNATIVES, AND NOT GO BACK INTO THE STATE HOSPITAL IN WATERBURY.

>> IT IS NO SECRET THAT THE FACILITY FOR A NUMBER OF YEARS IS LOOKED AT FOR A POSSIBLE CLOSURE AND IS THIS GOING TO ACCELERATE THAT PLAN?

>> IT IS GOING TO ACCELERATE THAT PLAN. IT IS NOT A GOOD FACILITY. THE STAFF IS DOING A GOOD JOB, BUT NOT THE RIGHT SETTING. YES, WE HAVE BEEN TALKING ABOUT THIS 20 YEARS. I HAVE BEEN IN AND OUT OF LEGISLATURE THROUGHOUT THAT TIME AND WE HAVE BEEN TALKING ABOUT IT AND WE ARE GETTING CLOSE.

>> THE HUMAN SERVICES AND IT EQUIPMENT DAMAGED WHEN IRENE HIT AND DIT IT AFFECT THE BENEFITS OUT OR NEW APPLICANTS PEOPLE LOOKING FOR BENEFITS?

>> THERE IS NOT ONE ANSWER TO THAT. THAT IS A COUPLE OF THE GOOD STORIES COMING OUT OF THIS AND IMPRESSED WITH THE STATE EMPLOYEES AS THEY ADDRESSED THE ISSUE. THERE WERE A NUMBER OF PEOPLE SEEING THE STORM COMING AND SEEING THE CONCERNS, ESPECIALLY WITH THE LONG TERM POWER OUTAGES. PEOPLE WENT IN BEFORE TIME AND DID THE COMPUTER RUNS FOR THE CHECKS. THERE THE FUNDS OR THE OLD FOOD STAMPS PROGRAMS AND PEOPLE GOT THE BENEFITS BECAUSE OF GOING IN ON SATURDAY AND. IN TERMS OF COMPUTER EQUIPMENT, ANYTHING IN THE BASEMENT ROOMS THAT WERE FLOODED WE DID LOSE THAT, BUT THE SERVERS, SORT OF THE BRAINS OF THE OPERATION, THE CENTRAL PART OF THE OPERATION, AGAIN, THE INFORMATION TECHNOLOGY, THE IT PEOPLE WENT IN ON SUNDAY NIGHT AND AS THE WATER WAS COMING IN THEY BROUGHT THE EQUIPMENT UP TO HIGHER FLOORS. PEOPLE RECOGNIZED HOW IMPORTANT THAT THOSE VARIOUS FUNCTIONS AND EQUIPMENT WERE AND WENT IN AND RESCUED THEM. IN THE FIRST WEEK THEY TOOK THE EQUIPMENT AND PLUCKED IT INTO THE CENTRAL UNIT AND WITHIN A FEW DAYS WE WERE BACK ON LINE. SOME THINGS DID SLOW DOWN. WHILE WE WERE PROCESSING EXISTING CLAIMS AND EXISTING RECIPIENTS, WE WERE NOT ABLE TO PROCESS NEW APPLICANTS. SO A LOT OF PEOPLE WERE CALLING IN AND TAKING THE INFORMATION AND PLUGGING IT INTO THE COMPUTERS BUT TAKING A WHILE TO GET BACK UP TO THAT AND PUTTING THE PEOPLE ON THE MEDICARE PROGRAMS.

>> ARE WE BACK ON TRACK AT THIS POINT OR PLAYING CATCH UP?

>> WE ARE STILL PLAYING CATCH UP WITH SOME OF THE BACKLOG. WE ARE STARTING TO CATCH UP NOW.

>> RERECENTLY REPORTED THIS WEEK THAT THE MEDIAN INCOME IN VERMONT DROPPED, THE BIGGEST DROP IN THE COUNTRY AT AROUND $49,000, DO YOU ANTICIPATE WITH GIVEN THAT AND THE DISASTER THAT THE STATE HAS RECENTLY FACED WE ARE GOING TO SEE MORE APPLICATIONS IN YOUR AGENCY FOR HELP?

>> THAT IS VERY POSSIBLE. A LOT OF PEOPLE HAVE LOST THEIR HOMES, AND THAT IS PUTTING THEM IN DIFFICULT CIRCUMSTANCES AND THE AMOUNT OF FEDERAL ASSISTANCE WON'T REPLACE A LOT OF THOSE HOMES. A LOT OF BUSINESSES WERE AFFECTED. I ASSUME THAT THE PEOPLE IN THOSE BUSINESSES DON'T HAVE THEIR JOBS RIGHT NOW. WE ARE GOING TO SEE MORE APPLICATIONS FOR BENEFITS IN THE COMING MONTHS AND IT IS GOING TO BE A TOUGH FALL AND WINTER FOR A LOT OF PEOPLE IN VERMONT.

>> THAT IS A KEY QUESTION, GIVEN THE PRICE TAG ON SOME OF THE DAMAGE AND MORE PEOPLE SEEKING HELP, HOW ARE WE GOING TO PAY FOR ALL OF THIS?

>> THAT IS A GOOD QUESTION. I DON'T KNOW THE ANSWER TO THAT. THAT IS BEING DONE AT A HIGHER LEVEL THAN I OPERATE AT. THERE IS THE FEMA MONEY AND INSURANCE. BUT IT IS A GOOD QUESTION. I DON'T KNOW HOW IT IS GOING TO ADD UP AND WHAT THE BOTTOM LINE WILL BE. I HOPE BY THE TIME THAT THE LEGISLATURE MEETS ALL THAT ACCOUNTING WILL BE DONE. WE'LL NEED ADDITIONAL FUNDS IN THE BUDGET TO HANDLE THE CRISIS.

>> GETTING BACK TO THE PRICE TAG ON THE OFFICE COMPLEX, THE LATEST PRICE TAG THAT WE ARE HEARING IS ABOUT $25 MILLION TO GET THAT WATERBURY COMPLEX UP TO SPEED AND USEABLE AGAIN. DO YOU THINK THAT THE STATE WILL INVEST THE MONEY TO GET THAT PLACE UP AND GOING?

>> DARREN, I DON'T KNOW THE ANSWER TO THAT. THAT IS A DECISION THAT THEY HAVE TO MAKE. THERE ARE FOLKS SKEPTICAL OB MAKING THAT INVESTMENT IN THAT BUILDING. IT IS AN OLD BUILDING AND STILL IN THE FLOOD PLAIN AND WOULD IT BE BETTER TO INVEST IN NEW OFFICES. I THINK IT IS DIFFICULT TO GET BACK INTO THAT BUILDING. I THINK THERE ARE ON GOING CONCERNS BECAUSE OF THE AMOUNT OF WATER THAT GOT IN AND OLD BUILDING, THERE COULD BE ISSUES ABOUT AIR QUALITY, WHETHER THERE IS MOLD IN THE BUILDING, AND OTHER HEALTH ISSUES IN THE BUILDING IN THE PAST AND THIS JUST COMPOUNDS THAT. THIS IS AN OPPORTUNITY TO UPGRADE THE STATE OFFICE FACILITIES AND HAVING WORKED THERE SINCE JANUARY, I TELL YOU IT IS NOT A GREAT WORKING ENVIRONMENT FOR A LOT OF WORKERS. IT IS NOT AIR CONDITIONED. IT IS NOT DOUBLE PANED WINDOWS. IT COULD BE AN OPPORTUNITY IN THIS DISASTER TO PERHAPS PROVIDE BETTER WORK SPACE FOR THE EMPLOYEES.

>> WHAT IS THE SCUTTLEBUTT WITHIN THE ADMINISTRATOR AND ARE THERE OTHER POTENTIAL SITES BEING LOOKED AT?

>> I DON'T KNOW THE ANSWER TO THAT. WE ARE STILL IN RECOVERY MODE. WE ARE NOT IN THE MODE OF WHAT DO WE DO NOW. THE FOLKS ARE FOCUSSED ON FINDING TEMPORARY SPACE AND GETTING THE GOVERNMENT OPERATIONAL AGAIN AND FINDING THE SPACE, WORKING WITH MOVERS AND FURNITURE SUPPLIERS, AND GETTING THE WIRING DONE SO WE CAN GET BACK TO WORK. THE EVALUATION ASSESSMENT OF THE COMPLEX AND ASKING THE QUESTIONS ABOUT WHAT THE ALTERNATIVES MIGHT BE WILL COME NEXT.

>> I ASK THAT QUESTION WE HAVE DONE STORIES IN THE PAST NEW WEEKS IN WATERBURY FROM BUSINESS OWNERS WHO WITHOUT THE EMPLOYEES THERE, THERE ARE A HUGE NUMBER OF PEOPLE NOT BUYING SANDWICHES OR CLOTHING, ET CETERA, NOT FILLING GAS TANKS, THIS COULD BE DEVASTATING FOR WATERBURY.

>> IT COULD BE, THEY HAVE A GROWTH INDUSTRY THERE, THE COFFEE ROSTERS AND THAT SHOULD HELP, THEY HAVE 16000 OR 17000 STATE EMPLOYEES THAT WORK THERE. I AM ONE OF THOSE FOLKS. I BY SANDWICHES AND GAS AND GO TO THE LOCAL STORES OR MEET PEOPLE AFTER WORK AT THE RESTAURANTS, AND I'M NOT DOING THAT, AND MULTIPLY THAT. I HOPE WE ARE COMMITTED TO WATERBURY. I HOPE THAT IF WE CAN'T GO BACK TO THAT COMPLEX CAN WE USE OTHER STATE LAND OR WOULD WE DEMOLISH SOME OF THE BUILDINGS AND PUT KNEW BUILDINGS IN THERE. I DON'T KNOW THE ANSWER TO THAT. I HOPE WE STAY IN THE WATERBURY AREA.

>> WE WERE CHATTING AND I WAS APPROACHED BY A MAN THAT SAID IF WE MOVE BACK TO THAT WATERBURY FACILITY, IT IS IN A FLOOD PLAIN, HAS DISCUSSION BEEN GIVEN TO BUILDING A BURM, WHAT TO DO IF WE GO BACK TO THAT SPACE?

>> AGAIN, I DON'T KNOW THE ANSWER TO THAT. I'M WITH THE AGENCY OF HUMAN SERVICES. I HAVE NOT HEARD OF ANY OF THAT DISCUSSION YET. THERE IS ALWAYS SUPPOSED TO THE HUNDRED YEAR FLOOD AND WE CAME CLOSE TO THAT IN THE SPRING OF HAVING THE SAME ISSUE THAT WE HAVE RIGHT NOW HAPPEN BACK IN MAY. THE POTENTIAL IS FOR THIS TO HAPPEN MORE OFTEN THAN EVERY HUNDRED YEARS. MY ASSUMPTION IS IF THE DECISION IS MADE TO GO BACK THERE, SOMETHING HAS TO BE DONE TO PROTECT THE AREA FROM THE RISING WATERS, WHETHER THE BURM OR WHAT, I DON'T KNOW. I THINK OF NEW ORLEANS, IT WORKS FOR A WHILE AND THEN SOMETHING COMES ALONG AND SO MUCH FOR YOUR PLANS.

>> WE ALSO HAD FOLKS CONTACT US, CONCERNS THIS COULD LEAD TO LAYOFFS WITHIN THE AGENCIES, GIVEN THE PRICE TAG AGAIN, AND THE HUMAN DEMAND FROM VERMONTERS FOR BENEFITS, ARE WE LOOKING AT CUTBACKS?

>> NO, AND I DON'T BELIEVE WE SHOULD. THAT IS A DECISION THAT THE GOVERNOR WILL MAKE WITH THE LEGISLATURE. I WILL TELL YOU WE ALL HAVE BEEN STRUGGLING WITH DOING THE JOBS THAT VERMONTERS WANT US TO DO AND THE LEGISLATURE GIVES US TO DO WITH THE CUTBACKS IN THE RECENT YEARS. THE AGENCY OF HUMAN SERVICES LOST ONE OUT OF SIX IN THE CUTBACKS. EVERY DAY I WOULD SEE SOME PART OF THE WORK THAT WE DO, WHICH I LOOK AT AND SAY WE ARE NOT GETTING THE JOB DONE AS WELL AS WE SHOULD. WE ADDED A FEW STAFF PEOPLE BACK IN JANUARY AND FEBRUARY TO DEAL WITH SOME OF THE ISSUES, BUT THERE ARE ISSUES OF CHILD PROTECTION, PROTECTION OF THE ELDERLY, WHERE THE CUTBACKS SO SEVERE WE WERE NOT DOING WHAT WE HAD TO DO LEGALLY AND MORALLY. SO I HOPE THAT THIS WON'T RESULT IN FURTHER CUTBACKS. IT REALLY SHOULDN'T.

>> MOVING FORWARD HERE IN THE WAKE OF IRENE, WHAT ARE THE BIGGEST CHALLENGES THAT YOUR AGENCY IS FACING AND WHAT ARE YOU GOING TO DO ABOUT IT?

>> GET BACK TO OPERATING. WHAT I'M TRYING TO DO RIGHT NOW WHEN PEOPLE GET BACK TO WORK, GET SETTLED DOWN AND BACK TO THE JOBS THAT WE HAVE, PROVIDING THE SERVICES FOR OUR VERMONTERS AND PROTECTING THOSE THAT ARE MOST VULNERABLE AND FINDING THE FACILITIES FOR THE PATIENTS IN THE STATE HOSPITAL AND GETTING BACK TO WORK. IT IS CHALLENGING FOR THE EMPLOYEES THAT HAVE TO TRAVEL LONGER DISTANCES THAT ARE WORKING IN OFFICES NOT IDEAL AND WE ARE TRYING TO FINDING OTHER SOLUTIONS. IT IS A STRUGGLE FOR A WHILE. I'M SO IMPRESSED WITH THE PEOPLE WORKING THERE AND HOW THE VERMONTERS ARE HANDLING THIS. PEOPLE ARE RALLYING AROUND. WE HAVE THE CAN-DO SPIRIT. THE GOVERNOR IS LEADING. HE'S POSITIVE AND MOVING FORWARD. THAT IS A CHALLENGE AND WE ARE GOING TO MEET THE CHALLENGE.

>> VERMONT SPIRIT FOR SURE. DOUG RACINE THANK YOU.

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