Frustrations mount in NRCHS agencyLUVERNE — As Nobles-Rock Community Health Services (NRCHS) continues to move closer to an agency split at the end of this year, the tension among employees continues to increase as few answers are offered about the future of the agency in Nobles County.
By: Julie Buntjer, Worthington Daily Globe
LUVERNE — As Nobles-Rock Community Health Services (NRCHS) continues to move closer to an agency split at the end of this year, the tension among employees continues to increase as few answers are offered about the future of the agency in Nobles County.
During a meeting of the public health board Wednesday afternoon in Luverne, frustrations mounted as NRCHS voting members from the Nobles County Board of Commissioners — Marv Zylstra and David Benson — were not in attendance. Also absent was Nobles County Administrator Mel Ruppert. Benson had an excused absence, as he was attending a statewide Community Health Services conference.
Rock County Administrator Kyle Oldre and both Rock County commissioners who serve on the NRCHS board, on the other hand, were present. Oldre said there are some key issues that need to be worked out before the health board’s next scheduled dissolution meeting in mid-October, and without Nobles County participation, decisions can’t be made.
Meanwhile, staff in the agency are foregoing some of their work to answer questions posed by Nobles County Human Services officials, as well as the public health supervisor, who has been hired to lead public health after Jan. 1.
“How much time are we to spend working with, especially Nobles County, on future stuff?” asked one NRCHS team leader. “Staff are feeling pretty uncertain about our jobs.”
In addition to trying to operate their WIC clinics, do immunizations, monitor tuberculosis cases and handle other day-to-day operations in the public health office, staff members are being asked to provide copies of contracts and grant agreements, explain the duties of their jobs and show the new public health supervisor how billing is handled.
“That’s got to be awkward for you folks,” said NRCHS board chair Karen Pfeifer. “You feel as though you’re training someone to replace you.”
With Nobles County only advertising for two positions at this time — a registered nurse and a public health nurse — current staff members don’t know how many employees will be needed in the county’s public health office as of Jan. 1, or even if the agency will continue to provide all of the services it now offers.
Questions have already surfaced about WIC, immunizations and tobacco licenses.
NRCHS administrative secretary Barb Bents said the public wants to know if the WIC clinics will continue or be reduced, and the school districts are concerned about the future of the immunization program in public health. Students who show up to school without their proper immunizations are sent to the public health office to get them.
“In Nobles, nothing definitive has been told to us,” said Bents. “People need to be aware that there will be changes after the first of the year.”
Speaking on behalf of Rock County, Oldre said WIC clinics will continue there, and progress continues with its merger to Southwest Health and Human Services.
“Ultimately, the goal for all of us is to continue to serve our clients,” he said.
Southwest HHS is also in the process of adding positions to serve Rock County after Jan. 1. Both Nobles County and SWHHS hope to have new hires on staff by Nov. 1 — and that is also cause for concern for NRCHS in its final two months if current staff are hired away.
“If we need to approach Southwest to bridge some of that gap, we’ll need to do that,” said Oldre.
That will be the case especially if one of the RNs leaves the agency prior to the end of the year. The RNs oversee the WIC clinics, and with fewer staff, they would need to reduce the number of clinics, which leads to serving fewer clients and lost revenue.
If SWHHS or Nobles County hires an existing public health nurse, that will create other concerns — such as who will oversee public health preparedness, who will lead the tuberculosis response and who will take charge of the maternal child health program. The tuberculosis program is mandated by the state.
Oldre said NRCHS has the potential to lose five employees by November if they apply and are hired for positions within SWHHS or Nobles County.
“For Rock County, we’ve had extensive talks with Chris Sorensen (SWHHS director) that Rock County is taken care of for the rest of the year,” he added.
Oldre said some of the concerns brought before the NRCHS meeting on Wednesday can’t wait until the next dissolution meeting, but without representation from Nobles County, decisions couldn’t be made.
In other news Wednesday, it was reported that NRCHS had to send back $7,200 in unspent grant dollars back to ClearWay, and more than $9,900 in public health preparedness grant funds.
“We didn’t have enough staff to fulfill the duties of (the public health preparedness grant),” said Bents, adding that the former NRCHS sanitarian spent 30 percent of his time on preparedness efforts. “Nobody can pick up that amount of time.”
The state shutdown in July also had a small impact on not being able to spend the grant dollars, she said.