Rutgers to lay off 62 mental health workers amid coronavirus budget crunch

Posted Jul 25, 2020

Marsha Escalliere learned she would be laid off from her job as a children’s counselor at Rutgers University Behavioral Health Care in Essex County about three months after her father died from the coronavirus.

“I had to work with the community and children in crisis and then I also had to deal with my own crisis with my dad passing in April,” said Escalliere, who responds to the homes of children and young adults if they’re experiencing a mental health episode. “And now to receive a layoff notice at this time, it’s disappointing.”

She is one of the dozens of mental health employees the Health Professionals and Allied Employees (HPAE) union says received notices Thursday informing them their last day of work would be Aug. 22. Rutgers says they are eliminating 62 University Behavioral Health Care employees due to an anticipated $260 million shortfall caused by COVID-19.

“The difficult decision was taken to lay off 62 University Behavioral Health Care employees to mitigate the severe financial challenges we are facing, caused by a sharp decline in patient volume, demand for services, and a reduction of state funding,” said Zach Hosseini, a Rutgers spokesman.

“Because of the uncertainty due to the pandemic, we will continue to monitor patient volume and capacity and adjust our staffing as appropriate.”

It was not immediately clear which areas the layoffs would impact. The union said at least eight mental health employees received layoff notices in Cherry Hill, 19 worked out of Newark and 29 were in Piscataway, although Rutgers said the affected employees did not work out of Cherry Hill, but do maintain services based in Newark for Essex County.

HPAE Local 5094 Co-President Justin O’Hea said the union attempted to bargain in April for a work-share furlough program that could have spared jobs and saved Rutgers up to $100 million.

“These immoral and callous decisions are harming vulnerable populations in some of the most deeply traumatized and poverty stricken cities in a time where these services are needed the most,” O’Hea said in a statement. “Rutgers is perpetuating the same kind of social inequity and harm that is in the national spotlight at this moment.”

The layoffs are not part of a proposal that was reported by NJ Spotlight this week to reorganize Rutgers’ medical schools, the university told NJ Advance Media.

Rutgers said it is working with the affected employees to help them find other employment opportunities within the university.

“As patient volumes return, we will evaluate recalling to work these affected employees,” Hosseini said. “Though we face fiscal uncertainty, we are confident that we can continue to serve the behavioral health needs of the residents of New Jersey.”

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