County board discusses financial issues with child welfare programs

By Charlie Warner
Argus News Editor

Last week the Houston County Board sat down with interim Human Services Director Deb Rock and members of her staff to figure out a better way of reporting several programs the county offers that receive state reimbursements.

During a recent Human Services Board meeting, it was discovered there was a major discrepancy between the potential revenue the county could have derived through the Child Welfare Targeted Case Management (CWTCM) and Child Mental Health Screening (CMHS) programs and what the county actually was reimbursed by the state.

The difference for 2010 totaled $84,883 ($42,883 for CWTCM and $42,000 for CMHS), which obviously got the attention of the county board.

At the Jan. 17 Human Services Board meeting, county commissioners hoped to get a better understanding of what happened and if that figure was correct. Unfortunately Rock had a family emergency and could not attend the meeting.

While the commissioners briefly discussed the issue at the Jan. 17 meeting with Accounting Supervisor Linda Bahr and interim Social Worker Supervisor Sharen Lapham, the commissioners spent more time reviewing the numbers that were made available at last week’s board meeting.

“That number ($84,882) isn’t what the county lost in reimbursements in 2010,” Rock explained. “That number represents the potential revenue if every single potential client received every available visit and service. But that’s not possible.”

Rock went on to explain that there was a myriad of reasons why not every potential visit or service was conducted, ranging from bad weather, vehicle issues (for both the caseworker or the parent of the client), the case was closed but not reported closed, to truancy by the client.

There was a drastic difference in the figure for 2011, which was $9,283 for CWTCM. Figures were not available for CMHS.

Rock said there were several reasons for the difference. The county served 393 children with those two programs in 2011, while they served 497 in 2010. So the potential amount of service was higher in 2010. And the reimbursement rates were higher in 2010, which also skewed the figures.

Rock also explained that the financial report that Bahr prepares each year of the potential income and the report that Lapham prepares of the actual services rendered were reconciled once a year.

“This isn’t the best practice and I will take the blame for this,” Rock told the commissioners. “After discussing the situation with Linda and Sharen, we have agreed to compare figures on either a monthly or bi-monthly basis. This should improve the situation.”

It was also pointed out that both Rock and Lapham are serving interim positions, as they are filling in gaps due to employee departures and have taken on additional responsibilities.

“I didn’t have any training in this reporting process,” Lapham told the board. “But with the proper training to learn the best practices of this process, I feel that will improve the situation. The training will get everyone on the same page and all of the units will be working together.”

“I hope you understand where we, as a board, were coming from,” Board chairman Jack Miller said. “During our budget process, when we saw that figure ($84,883), it did get our attention. We needed to ask questions.”

Commissioner Tom Bjerke pointed out that the Human Services Department has the most employees of any department in the county. “We’ve been operating that department with a director who has been dividing her duties between two departments for over a year. I think it’s time we look at finding a full-time Human Services director,” Bjerke said.

“We don’t want to lose Deb. She’s done an awesome job,” Lapham said. “The social workers love working with her.”

Rock, who a year ago agreed to not only serve as the county’s Public Health Department director, but also oversee the Human Services Department, stated that it has been a real challenge trying to oversee both departments.

The board took no action on this issue, but will work with HR Director Tess Kruger to develop a plan.

In other board action:

Human services redesign

Miller updated the board on a human services redesign program that Houston County and 11 other counties in SE Minnesota have been working on.

The 12 counties have spent the past two years exploring how they might innovate to jointly provide services for their residents while consolidating offices and personnel to cut operating costs.

The project has chosen Accenture, a global management consulting and technology services company, to develop an operating plan on how the counties could deliver human services cooperatively.

The St. Paul-based Bush Foundation has provided a grant to help facilitate the project.

The other 11 counties include Dodge, Fillmore, Freeborn, Goodhue, Mower, Olmsted, Rice, Steele, Wabasha, Waseca and Winona.

A steering committee, composed of representatives from each county and from the Minnesota Department of Human Services is leading the project.

Crest funding approved

Rock reported that the county would be receiving $137,739 from the Southeast MN CREST Adult Mental Health Initiative.

The money will be used to send residents to mental illness and crisis treatment facilities, their medications if they don’t have insurance or are not on another state medical plan, as well as other adult crisis services. Rock said the 2012 allocation is very close to what the county received in 2011.

You can contact Charlie Warner at [email protected]