High food, fuel prices send more people to WICWORTHINGTON — With food and fuel costs taking a large bite out of the family budget, Nobles-Rock Community Health Services (NRCHS) has experienced an influx in the number of requests for assistance through the Women, Infants and Children (WIC) program.
By: Julie Buntjer, Worthington Daily Globe
WORTHINGTON — With food and fuel costs taking a large bite out of the family budget, Nobles-Rock Community Health Services (NRCHS) has experienced an influx in the number of requests for assistance through the Women, Infants and Children (WIC) program.
During its monthly board meeting on Wednesday, NRCHS staff said increased demand has the agency looking at expanding hours, and possibly nurses, to address the issue.
NRCHS Public Health Nurse Barb Navara said phone calls to the agency for WIC assistance are such that they are scheduling appointments up to 15 days out.
“WIC hours need to expand,” added Brad Meyer, NRCHS administrator. “I don’t think it’s going to get better any time soon.”
Currently, the agency’s Worthington office provides a WIC Clinic from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Thursday each week. Meyer said they could potentially expand the hours to 7 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., or could look at having the clinic open on Fridays.
Either of those options will require changes in staffing, however. The WIC Clinic is staffed with three registered nurses, all of whom are part-time in the agency — two are at four-fifths time, and the third is three-fifths time — with PHNs assisting with the clinics as needed.
Meyer said reimbursements for operating the WIC program would not be enough to warrant adding another full-time position.
“In an ideal world, we would increase the part-time staff to full-time,” Meyer said. “It’s the most cost-effective, budget-wise, to do that.”
“No matter what we decided, we’re adding money that isn’t in the budget right now,” said NRCHS board chair Karen Pfeifer.
While the agency struggles to meet the demand for WIC assistance in Nobles County, Meyer said they’re not seeing any changes in demand in Rock County, where a WIC Clinic is offered two days per month.
Kristin Deacon, a public health nurse with Lincoln-Lyon-Murray-Pipestone Public Health, had her position extended to full-time in Murray County earlier this month, creating two full-time nurses in the WIC Clinic instead of 1.5 full-time equivalent (FTEs).
“We’re hoping with that added staff, we will be able to serve more community members,” she said.
Deacon works with the WIC Clinic in Slayton on five clinic days each month, but said they are making extra appointments nearly every week to be able to serve clientele.
Because of the high cost of fuel, Deacon said some WIC clients who live in Fulda have had other people pick up their WIC vouchers for them while in Slayton, so they don’t have to make the 20-mile round-trip.
In Cottonwood and Jackson counties, WIC Coordinator Kathy Voss said she anticipates requests for WIC assistance to increase, although she hasn’t noticed much change as of yet.
“I am expecting them to go up, especially if (parents are) working minimum wage and driving to and from work,” she said.
Voss, who attended a national WIC meeting in late May, said the rising cost of food and fuel was a main topic of discussion among WIC coordinators from across the country.
“Some of our workers, our employees, are on WIC themselves, and they’re getting caught driving to work (with the high fuel costs) and the food costs as well,” Voss said. “Some can’t afford to come to work. If they’re not a nurse, they don’t get paid quite as much.”
Cottonwood-Jackson Community Health Services offers WIC Clinics three times per month — the first Monday and Tuesday of the month in Jackson; Monday through Wednesday the second week of the month in Windom; and in the third week of the month, they spend one day in Mountain Lake. During the fourth week, Voss said they often add clinics in Windom because people either missed their scheduled appointment that month, or new clients want assistance and need to get in.
Voss said the two nurses who present the WIC clinics in Cottonwood and Jackson counties serve about 650 participants per month.