Texas is short of thousands of workers at state health facilities

State hospitals and state-supported living centers are facing staffing shortages made worse by the COVID-19 pandemic, which is forcing Texas health officials to fill about 3,000 positions.

The Texas Health and Human Services Commission is trying to fill positions in 24 locations across the state, including some in Austin, El Paso, Corpus Christi, Richmond and San Antonio, offering hiring bonuses for certain positions at each location.

“Everyone is trying to get nurses, with COVID and everything,” said Scott Schalchlin, deputy executive commissioner of the agency’s health and specialty care system. “We really wanted to focus on how we could bring attention to life centers and state-supported public hospitals.”

Public hospitals provide inpatient psychiatric care to children and adults. State-supported living centers provide residential services for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

According to Schalchlin, certain roles are crucial for regular health care services. Registered nurses may be eligible for signing bonuses of $5,000, while licensed professional nurses could receive $3,500. HHSC also offers hiring bonuses for psychiatric health care aides at public hospitals and direct support professionals at state-supported living facilities.

But, he said, there are vacancies in all areas at these 24-hour facilities, including areas such as housekeeping, food service and maintenance.

While Schalchlin didn’t call the shortages a dire situation, he said the nature of the pandemic meant there was more pressure to fill roles and treat more Texans.

In the meantime, the agency has hired contract nurses to fill vacancies at state-supported living centers — but staffing is still stretched, Schalchlin said.

“We really want to have staff who are there all the time because those we hire can develop relationships with other staff, they develop relationships with the people we serve,” he said. “You just get a better quality of service from that rather than just having temporary nurses or staff there.”

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