County board discusses various Human Service Department issues

By Charlie Warner
Argus Editor

Sometimes you have to spend money to save money. This became quite evident when the Houston County Board held its monthly Human Services meeting last week.

Juvenile correction placements

In 2011 Houston County Human Services spent $115,000 associated with juvenile correction placements. So far this year, the county has spent $74,000 and is on pace to spend $250,000. Human Services had budgeted $93,000 for this program for 2012.

That was the sobering news county commissioners were told by Human Services Supervisor Karen Sanness last week.

Sanness explained that through 2008 the county had an agreement with the Minnesota Department of Corrections, who helped with the placements. County social workers collaborated with the state department when determining where juveniles on probation should be placed.

The county used to have some say when it came to juvenile correction placements.  Now the county is at the mercy of the criminal justice system, according to Sanness.

County Board Chairman Jack Miller asked Sanness what steps must be taken to alleviate this problem.

Sanness said the department needs to have a staff person who could oversee the placement of these kids. “For every dollar we spend on (overseeing) this, we can save $13 in costs to the county,” Sanness noted.

The county commissioners all agreed that a good hard look at adding someone to oversee juvenile correction placements would be the prudent thing to do.

Too many cases

Human Services Director Linda Bahr then informed the commissioners that the number of child mental health cases her department was handling was well over state guidelines.

“The state looks at us and says, ‘you can handle that many cases? We won’t have to give you as much money per case because you are so efficient,’” Bahr said. She added that the county will definitely see a reduction in state aid if they continue to have their social workers handling that many cases.

To help remedy the situation, the board did approve the hiring of two social workers, which both constitute as “back fill” hirings for social workers who have resigned.

The board approved the hiring of Wendi Ruesgen as a child protection social worker and Tammy Petersen as an adult mental health social worker.

EDMS collaboration

The board spent time discussing how the county could join up with surrounding counties in establishing an Electronic Data Management System.

Winona County has spent more than $300,000 converting their human services department from a paper to electronic format.

“There are so many counties that want to be on board by the end of the year,” Bahr told the board. “Currently, we don’t have any money in our budget to help pay to make the conversion. I think this is something we will need to address.”

During the April meeting, Bahr explained that county staff had been working with Dodge, Wabasha, Steele and Waseca counties to collectively develop an EDMS. By working as a collaborative, the five counties would be able to share the estimated $15,000 to $18,000 cost of developing the system.

The board has also discussed working with Winona, which already has the system in place and Fillmore County in developing a three-county collaborative. It was also suggested to include Wabasha County.

No action was taken on this issue.