DHS Director Clyde Saiki on own agency: 'There's a lot of room f - KPTV - FOX 12

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DHS Director Clyde Saiki on own agency: 'There's a lot of room for improvement'

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Without question, Clyde Saiki has endured trying days in his first year as the Director of the Department of Human Services in Oregon.

"When I think I'm having a tough day, I think about a caseworker who's making a tough decision for a child," said DHS Director Clyde Saiki.

Saiki was sued earlier this year. The agency failed all 14 of the national standards for child safety and agency accountability. Most recently his employees were caught housing foster kids in state offices or hotels, because they claimed there was nowhere else for them to go.

"I have to be careful in talking about that issue, because we do have litigation involving that," said Saiki. "It is difficult, it's one of our top priorities. We're looking for solutions and we talk about it on a daily basis on the list of what we deal with every day."

Now, that list, includes a state audit which found DHS employees feel overworked, stressed and underpaid.

"It was actually our retiring auditor's decision who felt the most useful tool we could provide a new director at DHS is an evaluation about what staff feels like working in the agency," said Secretary of State Jeanne Atkins.

Using a work environment survey of all DHS employees, the state audit team conducted a 51 question survey back in April 2016, the results were released in October.

More than 4,500 employees responded, that's a 62 percent response rate. Those employees also submitted more than 1,800 written comments to help illustrate their concerns, according to the state.

"The auditors felt the response rate was consistent with the fact that there was honesty about the survey," said Atkins.

While that audit found employees are largely proud of the work the agency does, a significant number of workers reported feeling overworked, stressed, underpaid and under supported.  In all, state auditors found seven areas that need improvement.

"To have almost half say we don't have the resources to do the job we're being asked to do and to have a high level of concern about communication, this agency serves more than 1 million Oregonians every year, there's almost 8,000 employees in DHS, communication from leadership down to field workers, is really important," said Atkins.

When Saiki was handed that audit, he said it only validated things he's suspected. He believes a lot of what employees are feeling, hinges on the agency's diminishing budget.

"Budget and policy decisions over the years now means we have a staffing model for child welfare workers where at this point, we are staffed at about 83 percent of what we should be staffed at," said Saiki.

Despite all this, Saiki believes DHS made progress this year in regards to client safety. But, even he barely gives the agency a passing grade.

"You know I'm a pretty tough grader, so I would give us right now somewhere in the range of a 'C or C-' there's a lot of room for improvement," said Saiki. "I'd give us an 'A' for effort though."

Saiki adds all the blame can't fall on DHS.

"I've been telling staff that the public relies on us alone to deal with issues, but we need to engage our legislatures, health care providers and advocates, we all have to work together in our communities to deal with the issues facing us," said Saiki.

The Secretary of State's office says they plan to do a follow up with DHS employees in about a year to see if things have improved.

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