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Nobles County to merge health and family services

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WORTHINGTON -- The Nobles County Board of Commissioners voted unanimously Tuesday to continue efforts to combine its health and family services departments into a single Nobles County Health and Human Services agency.

"I'd hate to see us put this (issue) on the shelf and have it collect dust," said Commissioner Marvin Zylstra. "We're a unique county. I think we're better served by keeping our health and human services locally. Sure, there are going to be some bumps in the road, but there's going to be ... no matter what."

Four members of the 10-person Nobles County Health and Human Services task force presented the group's analysis at the board's regular meeting, after six months of research and at least 12 meetings.

The task force gathered data, analyzed the services provided and needs served by Nobles-Rock Community Health and Nobles County Family Services, and sought to determine whether a single Health and Human Services Agency would be feasible.

"We wanted to be thorough and get a good picture of other agencies, of samples and examples of what's going on throughout the state," said Nicole Names, director of Nobles County Human Services and part of the task force. "It was all about transparency and openness, inclusiveness and trying to work together from the beginning."

The local task force utilized some of the research done by the Minnesota Blueprint for Public Health, which sought to determine some best practices for local public health agencies, and quickly discovered that many models for Health and Human Services had proven successful in Minnesota -- organized under several different statutes and different governance structures.

Because of its small size, Nobles County's agency would fall under Minnesota Statute 402.02. The county board could either create a separate human services board or it could assume the powers and duties of the human services board itself.

The task force determined what essential public health services are already being provided, complete with full caseload information for each position, found examples of various structures for public health and human services agencies and consulted with the Minnesota Department of Health.

"It was a good forum for us to get to know each other as agencies and get to know the other agencies," said Stacie Golombiecki, deputy human services director for Nobles County.

Analysis of logged staff time from Nobles-Rock Community Health indicates that 11.88 full-time equivalent positions would be needed to maintain the existing services offered to Nobles County residents.

Benefits of combining the two county agencies into one included sharing program knowledge, better communication, potential cross-training and efficiencies in sharing interpreters, meetings, transportation and administrative costs.

The task force also analyzed the difficulties involved in the change, emphasizing that staffing would need to be maintained in order to maintain the current levels of service.

County personnel will continue working on the transition to a combined Health and Human Services agency, which will need to be complete by Jan. 1, 2012.

"It's a great opportunity for both agencies," Names said.

In other news Tuesday, the board:

* Approved joint powers agreements for two different work-release programs, with Nobles County receiving $55 a day per inmate.

* Agreed to grant $18,727 to Sanford Worthington Medical Center to help pay for upgrading to the ARMER (Allied Radio Matrix for Emergency Response) system.

The hospital estimates it will need $45,747 to fully upgrade, and the city of Worthington already offered $14,500, leaving the medical center with the remaining $12,520 to pay.

* Awarded a $2.9 million bid for bituminous paving work to Dunnick Bros. Inc., of Prinsburg.

* Heard an annual update from the Southwest Minnesota Private Industry Council. The board also received an annual report from the Heron Lake Watershed District.

* Renewed a $20-an-hour contract for an interpreter for Nobles County Family Services and agreed to hire a social worker to replace a person who is moving away.

Commissioners also accepted a request to hire a three-fifths time secretary, replacing a person who resigned, for the Extension program from University of Minnesota Extension Regional Director Holli Arp.

* Appropriated $1,050 for the Southwest Minnesota Arts & Humanities Council and $7,239 for R.S.V.P. for the second quarter of 2011.