PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — The short-staffed Rhode Island Department of Human Services (DHS) hasn’t administered an exam to find new workers for about three years, despite having more than 100 vacant positions.

Target 12 has also learned the R.I. Department of Children, Youth and Families (DCYF) — another state agency with recent staffing issues — has hosted the R.I. Civil Service Exam multiple times during that period and netted hundreds of qualified job candidates.

Target 12 has reported on persistent DHS staffing shortages for months, and a May 31 R.I. Senate Finance Committee meeting wasn’t the first time state lawmakers expressed frustration over the staffing issues.

Acting DHS Director Yvette Mendez testified at the meeting that the agency has roughly 25 new hires since the beginning of the year and 112 vacant jobs. To fill those vacancies, Mendez said DHS is looking at a list of 360 people who passed the agency’s Civil Service Exam in 2019.

State Sen. Lou DiPalma, D-Middletown, was one of the committee members frustrated to hear the agency’s plan.

“To say that we haven’t had a test since 2019 … there’s no urgency. It’s not a priority,” DiPalma said. “And if there was, we wouldn’t be having this conversation. It would be: We’ve had the test four times this year.”

To find out whether other state agencies were like DHS, Target 12 asked DCYF if it had administered any Civil Service Exams since 2019 and learned it had done so six times and garnered 301 suitable candidates.

“I’m not certain why the sister organization, DHS, didn’t do the same,” DiPalma added.

DiPalma said staffing issues at DHS are urgent because the agency serves some of the state’s most vulnerable people. Overall, DHS serves roughly 300,000 Rhode Islanders.

DHS spokesperson Jose Garcia said in a statement: “Plans are underway to host another exam this summer in case the state needs to bolster the pool of qualified applicants.”

Garcia also said the R.I. Department of Administration’s Division of Human Resources decides when to administer the exam, not DHS.

Tolly Taylor (ttaylor@wpri.com) is a Target 12 investigative reporter for 12 News. Connect with him on Twitter and on Facebook