Southwest Health and Human Services is projecting a year-end deficit. Those words were shared with the Redwood County Board of Commissioners at a recent meeting by Beth Wilms, the new director of Southwest Health and Human Services (SWHHS).

Wilms, who was hired this past June as the director for the six-county entity that provides public health and human services programming for Redwood County, said there were concerns raised about the spending that was taking place within the organization and as a result SWHHS is not financially healthy.

“We’ve hit the pause button,” said Wilms. “We are reviewing how we do our work, as well as how we can contain expenses and enhance revenues."

Wilms told the county board the budget for 2017 was more than $750,000 over projections for the year, and the shortfall was anticipated to be even higher than that by the end of 2017.

Wilms said the downward trend has been taking place for some time, adding in 2014 SWHHS had $8 million in its reserves. That reserve now has approximately $1.5 million.

“In 2018 we are going to look to be more effective and efficient in our spending,” said Wilms, adding that means evaluating everything from how work is done to what policies need to be changed to ensure this kind of thing does not happen in the future.

Wilms offered a number of reasons why the shortfall occurred, adding at the top of the list is a crisis of funding from the state for the services being provided by SWHHS. That is particularly the case in areas of mental health programming, and Wilms said there never seems to be enough money to ensure those programs can successfully serve the public.

However, she added, that is not unique to SWHHS.

Another area of concern is the increase in staff, said Wilms, adding there has been a 25 percent increase in the staff at SWHHS (approximately 40 people) in the past three years. That kind of aggressive growth could not be sustained, she added.

With that in mind, Wilms said conversations have taken place with staff, and the hope is that no one panics as the SWHHS leadership looks for ways to address the budget shortfall. Addressing the staffing issue means putting a hold on any future hiring.

“We have six positions that are currently open,” said Wilms, adding until a deeper dive into the budget takes place and it is determined those individuals are really necessary, they are going to remain open.

Many of those people who have been hired most recently were tied to state initiatives and the promise of funding that never came. Wilms said as 2018’s budget is developed she understands there may be people who leave for any number of reasons.

While balancing the budget is a critical task for 2018, Wilms said the number one priority at SWHHS is always going to be helping families and keeping them healthy and safe.

“It can be expensive to do the right thing,” she said, adding growth is happening in the areas of public health and human services. “The services we provide don’t get cheaper.”

Wilms brings more than 17 years of human services and community services experience to her new role, with previous county experience in Houston, Crow Wing and Winona counties in Minnesota.

While efforts to balance the budget are taking place, Wilms said the core services offered through SWHHS will continue.

“For us this is a speed bump,” said Wilms, adding she is confident SWHHS is going to be a much better entity on the other side. “Although the journey will not be an easy one.”

Image courtesy of SWHHS