After months of planning, the merger of Redwood County’s human services and public health departments with the organization known as Southwest Health and Human Services (SWHHS) has happened. The multi-county group, which also includes Lyon, Lincoln, Murray, Pipestone and Rock counties serves as a separate governing entity focusing solely on those health and human service needs of those who reside within its boundaries.
According to Vicki Knob-loch, Redwood County ad-ministrator, the change officially took place Jan. 1.
She said while the change has taken place the public, for the most part, is not going to see any changes in its services.
“For the most part it’s the same people in the same buildings doing the same work,” said Knobloch.
Yes, added Knobloch, there are some changes which have taken place, and not everyone is doing the same job they had been doing in the past, but the changes which have occurred were done so intentionally to gain greater efficiencies in how the county provides its services.
The fewest changes are occurring in the human services area, said Knobloch, adding a few more significant changes have taken place in public health.
One of those chances was the elimination of the home health care program.
What the county discovered was there were already some private entities providing this service, and, according to Knobloch, the county had been discussing the elimination of this program before the decision to join SWHHS was made.
Another change is in the school nursing program, but that change isn’t immediate.
According to Knobloch, the school nursing program is going to continue under SWHHS for the remainder of the current school year, and, for the most part, the nursing staff already in place is going to continue to provide that service to the schools.
The overall goal of the county board as it made the decision to merge with SWHHS was to ensure no one lost their job.
While it was apparent not every job that existed would continue, Knobloch said every Redwood County employee was offered some job within the system. Some, she said, just decided not to take those positions.
Others, she added, actually received promotions within SWHHS.
As a separate entity, each county who is part of SWHHS has representation based on its population, and Redwood County is being allowed two representative members on the governing board. Knobloch said both human services and public health have their own boards, and Redwood County is going to have one member on each of those boards, as well.
Knobloch said leadership from SWHHS is going to be coming to Redwood County commissioners’ meetings on a regular basis to report on what is going on – similar to what has already been taking place with the departments at the county level.
One of the ultimate goals of the merger would be to allow residents within the system to travel to any one of the six counties involved to receive services.
In other words, a resident of Redwood County who lives on the west side is eventually going to be able to travel to Marshall to receive services, rather than having to drive to Redwood Falls and get the same kind of service.
As part of the merger, the county is handing over the fund balance amounts of $934,642 for human services and $373,856 for public health. Knobloch said those fund balances are going to be part of SWHHS as a whole, but said if for some reason in the future the county would decide the collaboration was not working, it would receive remaining fund balances back. That, she said, could be more or less money based on fund balance use – just like would happen at the county level.
The county also paid a per capita sum to join SWHHS of $300,000 for 2013 and up to $300,000 for 2014.
Knobloch pointed out the county levy for 2013 in both public health and human services actually went down under the new merger. The human service levy went from $2,570,266 in 2012 to $2,195,110 in 2013, and the public health levy went from $624,293 in 2012 to $353,298 for 2013.
The county opted to merge with SWHHS to create efficiencies within the two programs, and Knobloch said with a multi-county collaboration those efficiencies should be realized.
Knobloch is currently working on contracts with SWHHS for technology services and lease of current buildings, which she said could mean some revenue coming into the county.
Knobloch admitted there have been some hiccups along the way, and as the transition continues there are likely to be more. In the end, the merger should do what the county board hoped it would do – become even more efficient and at the same time still provide what county residents need.