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Public health provider asks for county funds infusion

The cost of providing public health services could fall more heavily on locals, a hospital financial officer predicted Wednesday.

St. Joseph's Area Health Services chief financial officer Jay Ross asked the Hubbard County board for monies to offset losses he said the hospital has incurred with its public health services contract.

"Public health under the St. Joe's umbrella...$150,000 to $300,000 is subsidized annually by St. Joe's," Ross told the county board. "We've got it down to $150,000 now."

While many other counties subsidize public health, Hubbard County currently does not, Ross pointed out.

"Once the county starts paying out, we'll need to bid out (public health) services," commissioners Lyle Robinson said. "How would that affect the hospital?"

"It wouldn't hurt the hospital not to be the public health provider," Ross said.

A local health grant of state monies is $87,000, said public health coordinator RaeAnn Mayer. Other programs such as a child health grant and the WIC program bring separate funds into the county.

"We made considerable cuts to staff," Mayer said.

"We're providing basic services," Ross said. "We would love to do a lot of things... No, we're not providing more than the state mandates but we can't quit when we run out of money."

Mayer said the county and hospital may need to look at "different models for delivery of public health."

"It was in the hospital's best interest to take it over when the grants covered it," Robinson said.

Ross said health care will change in the future as new models emerge from insurance exchanges making value based purchases.

But St. Joe's mission to provide charity care while keeping the hospital financially strong has not changed, Ross added.

New software will add considerably to the cost of public health expenses in the coming year, the two said.

In other business, the board:

n Approved a memorandum of understanding with Vetter Johnson Associates, to spend up to $7,000 on strategic planning for the second phase of the county's space reorganization plan.

VJA of Minneapolis is already involved in renovating the space above the county jail to move the Social Services Department into by yearend.

Planning has begun on how to utilize the Social Services space, once vacated, and how to accommodate the county's new Land Records Department, which will be an amalgam of functions from the Environmental Services Offices, Auditor-Treasurer's Office, Recorder's Office and Assessor's Office.

In doing so, Robinson worried the county was creating a bigger department than Social Services, and that space would immediately become a premium for the new department in the old Social Services space.

The board also rescinded a July motion to award the bid for furniture to a Bemidji firm due to a glitch in the bids. The furniture will be placed out for bid in two separate packages, the wall panels and the furniture itself.

n Agreed to apportion part of the county's insurance dividend to Heritage Living Center based on the amount of premiums paid. The county has rebated to Heritage this sum for the past couple years to help offset rising costs. The dividend for 2011 is $373,022 from Workers Comp and Property & Casualty premiums. Of that, around $78,000 would be returned to Heritage.

n Purchased a 2013 Ford Fusion for the county's motor pool for $17,000, a 2012 Yamaha personal watercraft for the Sheriff's Department for $13,794 and a new 16½-foot Alumacraft boat with trailer and life jackets for the Sheriff. In doing so, the county will trade in a 17½-foot boat and trailer that Sheriff Cory Aukes said "spends too much time on the trailer" because the large craft is too cumbersome to launch. The end cost would be $18,403.

The jet ski would be paid for from DNR grant funds; the boat through Boat & Water expenses the department gets annually.

Commissioners Robinson and Kathy Grell questioned why the county was trading for a boat that would be one foot shorter than the trade-in. The old boat was purchased in 2007 under a different administration, Aukes said. The 150-horse motor is too big to use in some of the smaller lakes, he added.

"We have to be a lot more questioning when we get sold a bill of goods," Robinson remarked of the 2007 purchase.

n Ratified the first union contract, a three-year deal going through 2014, with Union 320, Social Services workers. Terms of the contract were not made public.

n Approved a continuing education course through M State for more classes to start in 2013. The county's department heads went through a "lean thinking" course and is implementing the suggestions now into the Land Records Department. More education has been desired by all county employees.

Sarah Smith

Sarah Smith is the outdoors editor. She covers courts, business and breaking news in addition to outdoors events.

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