Columbia — The forced departures of at least nine state Department of Health and Environmental Control employees drew a chorus of complaints Wednesday from Democratic state senators, who called for a legislative hearing this morning.

New DHEC Director Catherine Templeton confirmed this week that she is laying off about one-quarter of the agency’s 38-person coastal division work force as part of an efficiency push she launched after taking office in early March. The Mount Pleasant resident declined to name the employees but said they were told this week their services are no longer needed at the coastal division.

The departures of nine coastal division employees aren’t the only ones since Templeton came to DHEC. Agency business management director Tony Lolas recently announced his departure after 20 years, although he said he was not ready to go. Doug Calvert, the department’s chief of staff, also is leaving DHEC after about three decades, state Sen. Joel Lourie said. Changes also are occurring in the agency’s health-licensing division.

Lourie, D-Richland, blasted Templeton’s decisions, complaining on the Senate floor that DHEC’s new director is being hasty in her decisions to cut some jobs — particularly when she has created others. Sens. Brad Hutto of Orangeburg and Phil Leventis of Sumter also raised concerns.

“At the same time she’s bringing in four of her cronies and paying them $100,000 a year, ... she’s laying off the people that actually do the work,’’ Lourie said. “I don’t think anyone in here in this chamber is not for eliminating government waste. But I think you can do this through natural attrition. I think you can do this with some degree of humility, out of respect for the people that have worked for this agency.’’

Templeton, chosen by Gov. Nikki Haley’s DHEC board to replace the retiring Earl Hunter, has hired an inner circle of advisers to help her review the often-criticized agency. The four new employees will make about $400,000 collectively, with one salary as high as $119,000.