Dodge County positions mark new human services direction

August 22, 2018

JUNEAU -- Although the addition of 10 individuals to the Health & Human Services department wrinkled some brows at the Dodge County Board meeting Tuesday night, the fact those individuals will help provide better services for Dodge County residents, at an even lower cost, will bring smiles in the end.

The process of adding new positions is standard, with approval or denial debated each August. Funding positions is formulated as part of budget deliberations, according to County Administrator Jim Mielke, who praised HHS Director Becky Bell for detailing the rationale for adding staff.

“This is part of the process,” he said prior to the meeting. “It may seem like a large addition, but Becky has explained it well.”

Positions include clinical care coordinator, psychiatric therapist, crisis coordinator, human services supervisor, three social workers, and three social services aides. The total cost is $559,000, which is offset by a reduction in contracted services along with grants and reimbursements that will allow for an excess of nearly $200,000. The county’s Human Services Board had already approved all of the positions with a unanimous vote.

“And we would be able to expand services in Dodge County and reach more residents, families and individuals in crisis,” Bell said.

She explained that over the past two years, the agency has been analyzing how it provides services, looking at the county’s needs and how the agency can do a better job of meeting them.

“All of the resolutions that are before the board tonight are a reflection of the analyses that were done and how we can better meet the needs of Dodge County residents,” Bell said. “A lot of the resolutions tonight are about the child and family unit and how we can better meet the needs of the children and families in Dodge County.”

As an example, allegations of child abuse are screened to determine whether they meet a legal standard. If they do not, then the case is generally dropped.

“Yet we know that the family is struggling or they probably wouldn’t be referred to us in the first place,” Bell said. “There is usually an identified need, and we’d still like to reach out to these families and offer them help or resources based on what their needs might be. Do they need help with parenting skills, or economic assistance or connection with a food pantry? How can we help those families succeed? Over a three-year period, Brown County served 400 families, and nearly 92 percent of them never entered the traditional child protective service world.”

Bell anticipates that a huge number of families in Dodge County may also be helped, based on the number of staff available and the need for services that continues to grow. She believes the number of families that are positively engaged with will also continue to grow.

Truancy complaints are another large issue, with that number rising significantly each year.

“If a child is not going to school, it doesn’t mean he or she doesn’t want to go,” Bell said. “It’s a reflection of something else — that the family unit is struggling somehow. What we know for sure is that children who don’t go to school fall behind. Children who are habitually truant are like eight times more likely to drop out of school and to not successfully merge into adulthood.”

Bell believes that getting involved earlier can help prevent those outcomes.

A prevention social worker and an assisting aide tackle those problems directly.

Restitution is sometimes ordered for the youths who cause damage to property, but that program has had limited success.

“We would like to enlarge that program because we believe that it is needed and that it can have a significant impact in preventing reoffending,” Bell said.

Additional positions are reimbursed with state and federal dollars, allowing the department to meet a need without incurring debt. Providing services that may have once been contracted elsewhere can also cut expenses, using the county’s relationship with Winnebago Mental Health Institute in Oshkosh as an example.

Between 2015 and 2017, Dodge County’s crisis contacts have nearly doubled (from 812 to 1,467). But admissions to WMHI have been cut in half, as the county has been able to steer more people toward private treatment, making use of reimbursements from insurance providers (from $42,000 in 2015 to nearly $202,000 in 2017) rather than automatically sending individuals to WMHI. The county’s WMHI-related costs have dropped by almost two-thirds (from $965,000 to $361,000).

“We haven’t had a staff increase in a long time, and the demands on them keeps on going up,” Bell said. “We’re doing a good job, but I think we can do better. My goal is to reach out and help more people. This way we can do a better job and save money as well. That’s what this is all about.”

In addition to additional HHS staffing, two deputy deputy sheriff positions and a sheriff’s detective were approved after much debate. Board member and Judicial and Public Protection Committee member Mary Ann Miller gave a brief justification for them.

“Because we’re short-handed,” she said.

A full-time beautician/CNA position was also approved for Clearview Nursing Home.

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