Staff shortages ongoing challenge for SWHHS

Photo by Deb Gau Beth Wilms, director of health and human services at Southwest Health and Human Services, spoke to members of the Lyon County Board on Tuesday.

MARSHALL — Southwest Health and Human Services is in a better financial position than it was several years ago, but issues like shortages of nurses and social workers continue to be a concern, Director of Health and Human Services Beth Wilms said this week.

“I think we’re in a good place. If we could be fully staffed, I would be much happier,” Wilms told Lyon County commissioners on Tuesday.

Staffing levels were among the topics Wilms talked about in an annual update on SWHHS activities at this week’s Lyon County Board meeting. SWHHS serves a total of six counties, including Lincoln, Lyon, Murray, Pipestone, Redwood and Rock counties.

Wilms said SWHHS was still feeling the effects of a tight labor market.

SWHHS director of business management Lisa DeBoer said the agency has around nine or 10 open positions each month.

“One of the higher spots that we’re missing is the public health nurses, but every county is seeing that. I think Nobles County is down six nurses. We’re down five right now,” DeBoer said. However, she said SWHHS has seen an increase in CPS workers since allocating for a salary adjustment for CPS workers and public health nurses.

“We’re seeing some turnover in our child protection social workers,” Wilms said. “That’s really tough work, and so I think that we’ll continue to see that. We were fully staffed in child protection, but we’re not as of today.”

Wilms said SWHHS was also having a hard time competing with other medical centers for public health nurses. “We just can’t pay the same rate of pay that they are, and offer the benefits that they’re seeing,” she said.

Commissioner Gary Crowley asked if a shortage of nurses affected the type and amount of public health services SWHHS could offer.

Wilms said SWHHS was looking at ways to emphasize early interventions and preventative health.

“We really like to have those programs that potentially could reduce out-of-home placements, reduce the fact that we’re seeing people come in because they’re in crisis,” she said. She also hoped that the state would consider relaxing requirements for a four-year degree for public health nurses. “I think we’ll see some talk about that.”

Finding affordable child care was also a concern for SWHHS employees. Wilms said it was good news to hear that two new child care centers had opened in Rock County. It could be helpful for employees in that part of the service region.

Wilms said SWHHS was “in a good place” financially over the past year.

“When you looked at it from a budget perspective, public health ended up at 1% over budget with revenues, and 3% under budget for expenditures,” DeBoer said. “For human services, we had 7% over budget for revenues and 0% – right at budget – for expenditures.”

SWHHS’s 2024 budget was also affected by factors like a new two-year union contract, and an 11.2% increase in health insurance costs, DeBoer said.

Wilms said the agency was also looking ahead to other factors that could potentially affect SWHHS. This year, Minnesota plans to split some services that are currently part of the Department of Human Services into a new agency, the Department of Children, Youth and Families.

“It’s going to be kicked off July 1, 2024. So it’s an aggressive timeline to establish a new department,” Wilms said.


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