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Fate of public health agency still undecided

WORTHINGTON -- After a nearly two-hour meeting Tuesday afternoon with representatives of Lincoln-Lyon-Murray-Pipestone Public Health, Nobles County Commissioners ultimately decided to seek more information on a system that would allow the county to maintain local control of its public health agency.

For the past several weeks, commissioners have discussed the option of eliminating a joint powers agreement with Rock County and joining the LLMP agency in a combined Southwest Health and Human Services (SWHHS) agency. After the board's discussions with LLMP director Chris Sorensen and others Tuesday, commissioners still weren't sold on the multi-county collaboration.

Instead, they directed Nobles County Administrator Mel Ruppert to work with Nobles County Family Services Director Nicole Names and deputy director Stacie Golombiecki on a scenario outlining the structure and cost savings of combining the local agencies. That information will likely be presented at the Sept. 7 county board meeting.

"I think we need more information, but I don't think in two weeks we'll be able to make a decision," said board chairman Marv Zylstra, suggesting perhaps Rock County be notified the joint powers between the two counties would remain in effect through the end of 2011.

Commissioners held off on the notification, however, deciding to wait until after their Sept. 7 meeting, when they have another opportunity to look at the budget structure.

Commissioner David Benson said there is no doubt there would be cost savings if the county collaborated with LLMP, but Commissioner Vern Leistico said he didn't like the way LLMP had its joint powers agreement set up for the combined SWHHS agency.

Ruppert said joining with SWHHS does not provide, with certainty, that all public health staff in Nobles County will remain employed with the new agency.

"I see a lot of opportunity in the health arena to also look at some contract services for expertise," Ruppert said.

Prior to the board's discussion, commissioners had several questions for Sorensen and received a budget scenario from Nobles-Rock Community Health Services Director Brad Meyer based on maintaining a single health agency.

In his presentation, Meyer said five positions would need to be cut from the budget if the county chose its own health-family services-community corrections agency. Those positions include the sanitarian, family services nurse, administrative supervisor, accounts receivable clerk and a public health nurse.

Meyer said the county could contract with the state to do the food, beverage and lodging licensing in the county, which would mean lost revenue of $31,500, but would still save the county money because it pays approximately $65,000 in salary and benefits for the position.

As for the family services nursing position, Meyer said the immunization program would have to be cut to just what it is mandated -- refugee health immunizations. The uninsured and underinsured currently served by the county would have to go to their local clinic, he added.

Both the administrative supervisor and accounts receivable clerk positions could be cut to save on duplication of efforts if public health joined with family services, while the final public health nursing position would be cut to meet the county's budget, Meyer said.

"That's not including me; I'm already going to be gone," said Meyer.

He said with such drastic cuts to the agency, another tuberculosis outbreak would require the county to contract with other agencies for response.

"If you want to maintain normalcy, maintain services, it will be very hard to do (with a single county collaboration)," Meyer said.

"I don't think we would do so bad if we were on our own," said Thier after hearing Meyer's presentation.

Zylstra reminded commissioners that if the idea of a combined public health-family services-community corrections agency didn't work out, they could still joint the SWHHS in 2012.

Julie Buntjer

Julie Buntjer joined the Globe newsroom in December 2003, after working more than nine years for weekly newspapers. A native of Worthington, she has a bachelor's degree in agriculture journalism. Find more of her stories of farm life, family and various other tidbits at

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