12 counties explore collaborationPublished 10:30am Thursday, January 26, 2012
Twelve county human services departments in southeast Minnesota, including Freeborn and Mower, that have been exploring the possibility of collaboration have begun developing an operating plan.
Freeborn County Human Services Director Brian Buhmann said counties already have been working together on certain initiatives, but this undertaking possibly could bring together many different services to streamline helping county residents. He said each year counties have to provide more services with less funding.
“This is such a huge undertaking,” Buhmann said. “We’re looking at not just streamlining but efficiency — it will rely a lot on technology.”
The 12 counties, Freeborn, Mower, Dodge, Fillmore, Goodhue, Houston, Olmsted, Rice, Steele, Wabasha, Waseca and Winona, have been working on how to provide services jointly for two years. They have a steering committee with representatives from each county leading the project. Freeborn County’s representative is county Administrator John Kluever and Mower County’s representative is county Coordinator Craig Oscarson.
“We do a lot of collaboration already, and we’re just looking to see what the potentials are,” Buhmann said.
Recently a consulting company, Accenture, was hired using a grant from the St. Paul-based Bush Foundation that will do site visits at all the human services departments to help develop a plan for all the possible collaboration. The plan and recommendation would be presented to county commissioners in late February or March, and the decision of whether or not to move forward with the plan will ultimately be up to them.
“A certain number of counties need to be involved,” Buhmann said.
If the commissioners go ahead with the plan that’s presented there would likely need to be investments in technology, Buhmann said. One example Buhmann gave for collaboration would be with adoptions. In Freeborn County there are only about 10 adoptions per year, and Buhmann said staff are often relearning how to complete the process. If 12 counties were collaborating, there could likely be just one or two people in all of those counties who could handle all the adoptions. That way they would be more experienced and better able to help residents.
An unresolved issue is whether families would have to travel to that one employee, or if the employee would travel to all the counties.
Buhmann said it’s possible this would be where technology would come in and the family and county worker could video chat, which would eliminate traveling. Two representatives of the Minnesota Department of Human Services are participating also in the project, along with local representatives.
“We expect that the demand for human services in Minnesota is going to increase dramatically in the coming decades. The bold and innovative approach these 12 counties are taking meets that reality head on,” DHS Commissioner Lucinda Jesson said.
County human services operations
County 2010 population 2012 annual budget Local tax levy Employees
Dodge 20,087 $4,602,264 $2,403,415 34
Fillmore 20,866 $3,673,344 $1,154,266 25
Freeborn 31,255 $10,600,000 $5,300,000 82
Goodhue 46,183 $10,213,053 $3,909,980 69
Houston 19,027 $4,401,480 $1,209,970 31
Mower 39,163 $8,455,043 $2,858,775 59
Olmsted 144,248 $54,701,663 $27,818,021 337
Rice 64,142 $10,550,366 $3,929,695 88
Steele 36,576 $8,082,583 $2,834,447 61
Waseca 19,136 $4,397,166 $1,048,409 26
Wabasha 21,676 $4,761,151 $2,133,579 34
Winona 51,461 $10,002,819 $2,963,047 74