SW Health and Human Services facing cuts

Director tells Murray County agency not financially healthy

SLAYTON — The new director of Southwest Health and Human Services (SWHHS) told Murray County commissioners on Tuesday that the agency is not financially healthy right now.”

Beth Wilms introduced herself and her agency’s budget shortage to the Murray County Board Tuesday.

Beth Wilms had just completed her 90-day probation and was working on bolstering the flailing organization.

She tried to sound optimistic about the budget cuts the SWHHS was having to make, but the fact was it was going to be $750,000 over budget already this year and there would be a huge shortfall until future grants would come in, she said.

She then went into a report of her department’s activities.

“I’m working on establishing relationships with SWHHS partners,” she said. “We’re working to meet all of the 93 recommendations of the governor’s Task Force on Child Protection with little reimbursement for that.”

Mental health is also a huge budget item with never enough funding, she said.

Wilms is looking at providing internal training for her staff on coping with the churn, as she put it. She is also planning safety drills with law enforcement agencies and doing an internal assessment.

“Are we top heavy with staff?” she said. “We’re reviewing policies and procedures and the seven-year strategic plan. “We have aggressive staffing and services, but I get to be the ‘ugly step mom’ and say, ‘no, no, no’ to budget requests.”

One of those requests is for hiring to fill vacated positions.

There are currently five positions on her staff that stand open and will have to stay open until things turn around.

There would be some “uncomfortable discussions” coming up, she said. “It’s nothing we haven’t seen before. It’s just the ebb and flow of money.”

The SWHHS works on a 75 percent reimbursement from the state which fell through because the state changed its formula, Wilms said. “Our elderly and disabilities state funding didn’t come to fruition.”

Wilms’ work on the SWHHS budget isn’t just about savings by cutting expenses, she said.

“We (need to) increase our revenues,” she said.

Even though she believes it is a crisis, she said she also believes they will have a plan in place soon.

It has to be soon as they only have $1.5 million in reserves which equals about 1- 1/2 months’ operations expenses.

“I believe we will come out stronger on the other side,” Wilms said. “I am asking for patience from the board while we rebuild our reserves.”

Wilms also said she was trying to be as transparent as she can so that staff stays calm.

“It’s just a speed bump, not a detour,” she said.

Wilms’ staff will also be holding a meeting to discuss mandated versus non-mandated state recommendations.

Some non-mandated items, like child welfare, can provide a less expensive alternative to out-of-home placement which is mandated.

“I hope it doesn’t come down to mandated versus mission critical,” Wilms said.

Other items affected:

• While having budget trouble, SWHHS cannot afford to offer early retirement.

• No reason not to use company cars and county gas pumps, especially if one hits a deer.

• Requiring 100 percent reporting — checking every box on forms to avoid “leaving money on the table” for not completely completing a form.