Employees at Kentucky’s largest social-services office say they are frightened and outraged by the state’s decision to eliminate nine of 11 security guards at Louisville’s L&N Building, where they often handle angry, sometimes violent clients
It makes me mad that now I have to fear coming to work every day,” said Noelle Milburn, a secretary who said she routinely encounters upset clients. “We need security in this building.”
Citing cuts prompted by the austere two-year budget lawmakers approved in April, the Cabinet for Health and Family Services tomorrow will eliminate all but two of its private security guards who patrol state offices that are spread over 10 floors of the former railroad company building.
That will leave one security guard to work at a visitor sign-in desk and a second to patrol the building.
Employees say that’s not nearly enough to handle clients whose children have been removed because of abuse or neglect, people angry at the loss of such benefits as food stamps, and others who might have drug or alcohol problems or suffer from severe mental illness.
Cabinet officials say they are doing the best they can with existing resources — though they realize the jobs carry risks.
“It is a dangerous environment in which we are working these days,” said Teresa James, the cabinet’s deputy director of social services.
The cabinet will save up to $900,000 a year through the cuts, budget adviser Beth Jurek said.
The state also is reducing security at seven “Neighborhood Place” centers in Jefferson County and at some other offices around the state, James said.
Though workers at the Louisville office said no one has been seriously injured in recent memory, they say clients have pushed, shoved and threatened workers. They credit the security staff with helping ensure nothing worse has happened.
Recently, workers said, an angry client shattered a window, and on Tuesday — the same day the cuts were announced — guards intervened in a fight among several clients, workers said.
Cabinet officials said they have no money for metal detectors at the L&N Building, though workers said yesterday that clients have brought in guns, knives and even a crowbar.
Velina Walker, who works at a reception desk in the building, said an angry client recently told her: “If I bring a gun, you’re going to be the first person I shoot.”
James said the cabinet has tried to improve security by limiting visitor access to one entrance, adding security cameras and continuing to train workers on safety.
James said state officials consulted with local supervisors at the L&N Building to decide on the security changes.
Jackie Stamps, the cabinet’s regional supervisor for Jefferson County, said state officials told her the L&N Building could keep more security guards if local supervisors were willing to cut staff, such as social workers.
But “with staff vacancies and rising caseloads, we just couldn’t give up positions,” she said.