SLAYTON -- County commissioners must decide by mid-September whether to combine Nobles-Rock Community Health Services with Lincoln, Lyon, Murray, Pipestone Public Health.
County administrators, commissioners and public health staff from the six counties met Tuesday at the Murray County Human Services Building to discuss the logistics of combining the two joint powers collaborations into one.
The merger would consolidate administrative duties for LLM Family Services, LLMP Public Health and NRCHS, while keeping staff levels constant, said Chris Sorensen, director of LLMP Public Health.
"There might be some savings there for both sides," he said. "We're really talking about small systems just becoming a little bit bigger; the public would not see a change in delivery or quality of service."
While Sorensen said he'd like to see all current NRCHS employees remain, he stopped short of promising no NRCHS administrative positions would be cut -- that's a decision left to the county boards.
"The job description might shift or change a little bit rather than elimination," suggested Mark Goodenow, a Lyon County commissioner.
Other efficiencies have been realized within LLM/LLMP by cross training employees in human services and public health departments to pre-empt problems during staff absences, Sorensen said. Further collaboration would increase cost savings potential.
"We know that there's oil under the ground when it comes to these certain costs," he said, referring to the current LLM/LLMP setup. "We're co-located so we're working with the same administrative support person that human services has for a much lesser cost for us overall."
Sorenson suggested the partnership could make the coalition a better contender for state grant funds, and allow the six counties to share specialists -- a nutritionist, for example -- that each county couldn't afford alone.
"The vision is to provide a level of services as good as or better than any metropolitan area," he said.
Nobles County Administrator Mel Ruppert questioned whether the collaboration would address the unique needs of each county -- including equal access to health services for residents of Nobles County.
"We do have those health disparities, so to me, the (problem) is the same," affirmed Sorensen, whose office is based in Marshall. "We need to mitigate (health problems), and if we couldn't do that with the existing resources ... then I don't think in good faith that we would want to move forward with it at all. We're going to make sure those needs are met on a basic level."
County commissioners have until Sept. 15 to decide whether they want to join with the other health coalitions. The new structure would be governed by a board with representatives from each county.
"A decision has not been made," stressed Ruppert. "There's been very little discussion."