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Agreement signed for multi-county health purchasing alliance


WILLMAR -- The Kandiyohi County Board of Commissioners unanimously approved a joint powers agreement Tuesday to be part of a new multi-county rural community care system that could be the first of its kind in the country, pending approval from the state.

Currently called the Southern Prairie Health Purchasing Alliance, the goal of the agreement is to operate a system to "improve the health and quality of life of the citizens" of the member counties that participate in government health care programs.

That goal would be met through improved coordination, management and delivery of healthcare and social services through partnerships between counties and providers, according to the agreement.

The joint powers agreement is "a culmination of lots of years of work," said Ann Stehn, county public health director and interim family services director. "We're at a critical time with the organization."

The state Department of Human Services is expected to request proposals for a pilot project for a rural community care system in September.

The 12-county alliance, which could grow to include additional west central Minnesota counties, is hoping to get the state's nod.

Because the group not only as a joint powers agreement but has hired one staff person and has already established a strong organization, the group is "ready to act" if they're selected, Stehn said.

The Southern Prairie Health Purchasing Alliance, which may get a new name in the near future, is getting the attention of Gov. Mark Dayton and Department of Human Services Commissioner Lucinda Jessen, both of whom are expected to visit the region to learn about the program.

"This is a new venture in rural community care," Stehn said, adding that it is a "model to be used for the future."

Under the plan, the multi-county group will contract for services directly with local health care providers, rather than contracting with private, nonprofit organizations and insurance companies.

It's hoped the new system will improve health care for participants and reduce the costs of government health care programs, like medical assistance.

It'll also allow a more local approach to health care that reflects the needs of this rural community, rather than the one-size-fits-all method of statewide healthcare insurance providers.

When discussions began several years ago the state discouraged these types of county-operated systems.

"The state didn't want to relinquish control to counties," Commissioner Harlan Madsen said.

"There's since been a paradigm shift from a few years ago," he said. "This whole discussion has shifted."

Commissioner Jim Butterfield said he doubts the state will put up roadblocks for implementation of the new community care system.

Chairman Richard Larson said the recent Supreme Court decision to uphold the Affordable Care Act was a "big plus" for the new alliance.

"We're probably sitting in a good chair right now," he said. "We're moving forward at the right time."

In other action, the commissioners approved an agreement with the city of Willmar for building inspection services. The county had two building inspectors and when one retired this year it was anticipated the work load would be manageable.

But County Administrator Larry Kleindl said the economy is improving and there is too much work for one building inspector.

The city agreed to use city personnel for county work on a trial basis. Under the agreement the city will provide about eight hours of work a week at a cost of $47.50 per hour.

This kind of inter-government cooperation has been increasing as a way to "consolidate things and streamline the process," Kleindl said.

"I hope we see more of these kinds of things," Madsen said.

"We're working together more," Larson said. "It's a good deal."

The commissioners were informed that several tenants in the Health and Human Services building are leaving or down-sizing their space, resulting in reduced revenue.

One of the tenants is the IRS, which is asking to break its 10-year lease, which currently generates $27,000 a year in revenue for the county. The county is negotiating a settlement with them.

Because of decreased grants, the PACT for Families organization is shrinking and also needs less space.

Kleindl said he's talking with potential tenants for the building.

Meanwhile, the county had to make an emergency purchase last week of a $15,000 compressor for the air conditioning unit at the downtown county office building. It was repaired before the heat-wave this week.

Kleindl also informed the board that the cameras in the county board room that's used to record meetings that are viewed on the local cable access channel will need to be replaced.

Because they're 17 years old, replacements are hard to find and aren't compatible with new technology. But Kleindl said a new system would be expensive.

In other action, the commissioners:

Approved a joint powers agreement establishing a board of directors to organize and govern the Hawk Creek Watershed project and approved a resolution for the $200,000 low-interest loan for the Chippewa River Accelerated Restoration Clean Water Partnership Project.

Approved a bid of $85,600 from Roger and Joyce Engstrom for the purchase of a 40-acre tract of agricultural land the county owned in Irving Township.

Approved revisions to the employee handbook, which includes several new sections, including guidelines regarding public relations and employee's roles in representing the county in a positive manner.

Carolyn Lange

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

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