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NRCHS addresses possible state shutdown

WORTHINGTON -- As state leaders continue their closed-door budget discussions, Nobles-Rock Community Health Services board members met Tuesday afternoon to discuss contingency plans in the event of a statewide government shutdown on July 1.

NRCHS board chairwoman Karen Pfeifer said without a decision from the courts on whether pass-through funds from the federal government will be paid to counties, it was critical for the agency to determine which services will continue during a shutdown and which employees will be kept on staff.

Many of the programs offered through public health are funded either with federal or state dollars, or a combination of the two.

Rock County Administrator Kyle Oldre said that in talks earlier this week with Rep. Joe Schumacher, R-Luverne, state lawmakers continue to make progress on the budget. At the same time, without a court ruling, he said, "It's really hard to decide what to do and what not to do.

"There's a lot of things in play and not a lot of time to get it all worked out," Oldre said.

Pfeifer met with NRCHS team leaders last week to establish a contingency plan outlining critical and medium priorities and possible staffing needs in the event of a shutdown.

Among the most critical priorities identified are disease prevention and control, particularly the agency's efforts to investigate and respond to tuberculosis cases, and emergency health/public health preparedness and emergency response.

Medium priority services identified include public health nursing clinics, environmental health/public health nuisances (only in an emergency outbreak) and family health/WIC (only if federal funds continue to pass through the state.)

As for staff, Pfeifer presented an outline calling for 7.25 full-time equivalency staff to be funded during the government shutdown. The staff would include two full-time public health nurses in Nobles County, one full-time clerical support/administration employee, a two-fifths-time public health nurse in Rock County, one full-time WIC technician, two full-time WIC certifiers and the full-time health educator, who is funded by a ClearWay Minnesota grant.

Oldre suggested the agency continue as status quo for at least the near future.

"(In Rock County), we'll have a business day on the first (of July)," he said.

Both Nobles and Rock counties have scheduled commissioner meetings on July 5, at which time more will be discussed if the state indeed shuts down.

"If the state shuts down and we have to cash flow for two weeks, we'll do it," said Oldre. "Services we provide in public health are so essential."

Nobles County Commissioner Marv Zylstra said Nobles County has taken the same position regarding funding essential services.

"There's vulnerable adults out there that need protection -- we have to provide that service," Zylstra said.

In the event layoffs are needed, Pfeifer said the staffing costs would go from $116,000 in July to an estimated $54,750. NRCHS has a fund balance of $850,000, which would be used to cover staffing during a government shutdown.

Oldre suggested the agency keep employees on board, doing what they're doing, and if there hasn't been a resolution to the state budget by July 13, action would be taken regarding layoffs.

"We've got a pretty solid reserve, with good management for a long time," said Oldre. "I'd hate to see the public (negatively impacted) by the inaction of the state."

NRCHS board member Dorothy Dorn agreed with Oldre.

"We have the reserve money. I can't see laying people off, "she said.

"We may deplete some of our reserves, but we're going to disband soon anyway," she added.

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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