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Merging of two Kandiyohi County Depts. one step closer to fruition

WILLMAR — Another step was made this week in the eventual merger of Kandiyohi County’s Family Services Department and Public Health Department.

The two departments — which are still separate entities even though they are both supervised by Director Ann Stehn — will now be jointly known as the Health and Human Services Department. The Kandiyohi County Board of Commissioners took action Tuesday to rename the departments under one banner.

It’s part of the process to eventually operate as one integrated department.

The new name is the same name as the facility where they are housed: the Health and Human Services building, located on the north end of Willmar.

County Board Chairman Harlan Madsen said the name change “may seem benign” but is important because it “sets the direction” and mirrors the guiding principles and common mission for the services the departments provide to residents.

Stehn said taking another step toward the merger represents a “monumental time in the history of our county.”

There is still work that needs to be done before an operational merger can be finalized, including reconciling data privacy, data processes and work flow between employees who may work with similar clients but use different computer programs and different program criteria.

Stehn praised the steering committee that has been directing the transition as the county searches for ways to become more effective and efficient.

David Paulsen, who was hired to help subcommittees delve into the intricacies of a full integration of services with public health and family services, gave the board an update on progress with that task. He also spoke about plans for “increased interfacing” of the Veterans Services Office and Community Corrections Department.

Part of that process has included examining the work culture of the different departments and focusing on common goals, said Kandiyohi County Administrator Larry Kleindl.

He said there’s been a change in the mindset of employees who are searching for ways to “do things differently” that will improve services for residents and create a smooth workflow between cross-trained employees from different departments.

That soul-searching process will be taking place between all county departments, including those at the county’s downtown Willmar office building where a remodeling project is also underway that’s designed to enhance the flow of work and public services.

The process is challenging but Kleindl said employees are committed to following through. He said there’s already been positive community response to some of the changes the county has made, including a remodeled venue and revamped system for obtaining vehicle licenses.

The long process is far from over but Kleindl said positive changes are happening.

“It’s a story we’re telling about the people we’re serving,” he said.

As part of the future changes in the downtown building, all the departments will be located on one floor. The county is also exploring the possibility of being able to again provide passport services.

Meanwhile, Kandiyohi County adopted a revised environmental health ordinance that aligns with Renville County. The two counties merged their community health boards in January. The new ordinance does not include any significant changes but aligns the language between the two counties. The ordinance deals with licensing of facilities such as restaurants and public pools. The Renville County Board is expected to take action on the ordinance later this month.

Carolyn Lange

A reporter for 35 years, Carolyn Lange covers regional news with the West Central Tribune.

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