Human Services moves ahead on collaboration

Published 10:07 am Thursday, January 26, 2012

Twelve county human services departments in southeast Minnesota, including Mower and Freeborn, that have been exploring collaboration have begun developing an operating plan.

Freeborn County Human Services Director Brian Buhmann said counties have already been working together on certain initiatives, but this undertaking could streamline services. 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.”

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The 12 counties, Mower, Freeborn, Dodge, Fillmore, Goodhue, Houston, Olmsted, Rice, Steele, Wabasha, Waseca and Winona, have a steering committee with representatives from each county. Mower County’s representative is county Coordinator Craig Oscarson and Freeborn County’s representative is county Administrator John Kluever.

“We do a lot of collaboration already, we’re just looking to see what the potentials are,” Buhmann said.

Recently a consulting company, Accenture, was hired using a grant that will visit all the human services departments to help develop a plan. The recommendation would be presented to county commissioners in late February or March, and the decision of whether or not to move forward will ultimately be up to them.

“A certain number of counties need to be involved,” Buhmann said.

If the commissioners go ahead, 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 collaborated, there could be just one or two people in all of those counties who could handle adoptions.

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 comes in and the family and county worker could video chat, eliminating traveling. Two representatives of the Minnesota Department of Human Services are participating 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.