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Internal changes bringing county departments together

WILLMAR — Even though they have separate staff behind closed doors on opposite sides of the building, progress is being made to bring Kandiyohi County’s public health and family services programs closer together.

Ann Stehn, who is now the director of both departments — which function under the new joint name of “Health and Human Services Department” even though they are still separate entities — said internal charges are being made to bring the entities together.

The long process of merging the two departments could be completed sometime next year, said Kandiyohi County Administrator Larry Kleindl.

In an update to the County Board this week, Stehn discussed some of the “small things” the departments are working on, quickly adding that “sometimes small things can be complicated.”

Stehn said work is underway to create a letterhead with the new name and changes are being made to the website to reflect the cohesive programming.

Nitty-gritty changes include integrating the phone system between the two offices and streamlining the mail processing system, which is currently done by personnel on both sides of the building. In the future it will be done by one employee.

They have kept track of the average number of people that come to the front desks of the two departments and are looking at ways to better utilize space and coordinate customer service.

The accounting functions for both entities will be taken over by the employee who currently handles the family services side.

That employee is learning about the nuances of the public health accounting system, including being the fiscal agent for the combined community health board between Kandiyohi and Renville counties, said Stehn.

Stehn said making these types of little changes take time but will add to the overall efficiency of the combined programs.

Based on the experience of other counties with merged health and human services departments, Stehn said Kandiyohi County will keep the finances of the two entities separate, even though one employee will manage accounting duties.

Having separate funds will help provide “clean reporting” for the programs, especially for those that receive federal funding, said Stehn, adding that the financial systems are complex with numerous reporting and tracking functions.

The leadership team from the two departments have been meeting to discuss policies and procedures and are looking for ways to “create a consistent culture” across both agencies, said Stehn.

She said relationships between employees are growing through the process and an “inner connectedness” is developing.

She said in 2014 all employees will hold joint staff meetings and participate in various training opportunities.

Stehn said the county will “see good things as we continue to move along” toward full integration of both departments.

At the same time the county is undergoing the major transition of merging the public health and family services departments, the county is also on the verge of launching Southern Prairie Community Care with 11 other counties to provide coordinated health care services to individuals that receive federal medical assistance and Kandiyohi County and Renville County merged their community health boards this year and are working to reconcile permits and procedures.

On top of that, county employees are still undergoing training and assisting clients sign up for health insurance through MNsure.

Carolyn Lange

A reporter for more than 30 years, Carolyn Lange covers regional news with the West Central Tribune.

(320) 894-9750