Leota Lind, CEO of South Country Health Alliance, visited Wadena County Commissioners, Tuesday, Oct. 1, sharing the miraculous turnaround the county based health plan provider experienced in 2019. In 2018, things were less than rosy as the company was facing a net loss of $12.3 million. However, since Wadena, Todd and Morrison counties voted to exit the Alliance, they have since seen net income of $6.1 million.

“This was a very challenging year,” Lind said.

Lind described the positive results coming from an increase in memberships of 1.9%, increase in DHS revenue, Medicare revenue was up 9% due to risk scores and frailty factors, and high-cost claims have not been so frequent. Internally, SCHA cut various administrative expenses in an effort to lower costs

As of July 2019, they had a net income of $3.7 million, though they only expected income of $343,000. Lind said they’ll be working to pad their reserves further in case another abnormal year should hit. She took the time to thank Wadena County for their participation in the county-based health plan and said she would miss their presence. Wadena County will be out of the program at the end of 2019 and would receive an equity payment likely paid out over five years. The amount was not yet disclosed.

Board chair Bill Stearns said SCHA likely wouldn’t miss Wadena County much as he found the losses tend to be greater in northern counties as the costs are higher.

“Over the next three months our priority would be to make a smooth transition and mitigate disruption in care,” Lind said.

Lind looks to continue to promote county-based health plans in the state.

IT Department updates

IT coordinator David Hotchkiss presented to the board on the need for updated internet service at the Wadena County Transfer Station. The current DSL offered less than desirable speeds. Hotchkiss reached out to West Central Telephone Association and an unnamed competitor. WCTA was the lower cost, but still required significant upfront costs. To get the fiber to the transfer station and setup the system would cost about $32,000, WCTA asked that the county pay $10,000 of that cost, Hotchkiss said. That was the same amount the competitor quoted. Commissioners approved going with WCTA paying for the project over a two-year period. Ongoing costs of service would be about $100 a month, compared to current spending of about $207 a month. The unnamed other quote was about $800 a month. There were at least two other properties along the route that could also benefit from the line and may pay a portion of the cost.

Hotchkiss discussed further plans to make the county’s servers safer from internal threats such as a water line break. He hopes to get to a point where if the courthouse building is lost to a disaster of some sort, county operations could resume quickly if the servers are protected.

“It is something that I am actively trying to mitigate for,” Hotchkiss said. “We’re in a better place than we were a year ago.”

“Yes we are,” Board chairman Bill Stearns confirmed.

Hotchkiss was pleased to see the approval of Tyrell Levig, as Network Technician in the IT Department.

Menahga street concerns

Commissioner Jon Kangas showed off a parking area and sidewalk in front of the drug store in Menahga near the intersection of CSAH 21 and Hwy 71, which showed a section of the street (about 40 square feet) cut out with dirt filled in the hole. The sidewalks were also showing signs of abuse and making for unsafe walking.

“I’ve witnessed people fall,” Kangas said.

The board discussed who is responsible for resolving the issue. County Coordinator Ryan Odden said after some investigating it’s not known who cut the hole or why, but it’s something that the county will take care of. He suggested Sentence to Serve workers might be able to do before winter. As for the sidewalks, that’s an issue that the city is responsible for. Stearns said the county should look into addressing the handicap ramps to the sidewalk as well.

Public Health fee schedule

Public Health director Cindy Pederson presented to the board on necessary increases to the food, pools and lodging fee schedule due to a new food code. Pederson explained recent changes at the state level mean the county has to make small increases to some fees to cover additional expense of software development and expenses related to salary increases. These fees have not been adjusted since 2016. Minor increases proposed included a $30 increase to large food establishments ($350), an additional $25 for the lodging base fee ($150), an extra $25 for new construction ($275) and new fees for special event camping. A comparison with Todd and Morrison counties showed Wadena's rates were lower in a majority of the categories.

Commissioner Jon Kangas questioned what type and size of business required permitting.

“We haven’t been policing lemonade stands at this point,” Pederson said, much to the relief of Kangas.

A public fee schedule hearing is scheduled for 9: 15 a.m., Nov. 5 at the Wadena County Courthouse.