The vast services offered with Wadena County Human Services, and their costs, is information commissioners were thankful for on March 15.

The department is aiming for transparency and making data driven decisions, as Human Services director Jennifer Westrum said. Westrum started as director in April 2020.

A new regional project is setting out to address educational neglect and truancy. The desire is to help families before they get to the point of child protection services with the court. One of the department’s social workers works with students and families weekly in the county’s school districts.

Within this goal, the county attorney’s office, probation and the county’s five school districts are discussing a standardized approach for the issues. The Human Services departments in Region Five, the school districts in the Region Five counties and Sourcewell are also partners. The collaboration will help better track students when families move to a different district, as Westrum said.

The department is also working on updating their website, which community members have noted as “nonexistent,” as Westrum said. The page is located on the Wadena County website, and now includes staff members names and contact information.

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Westrum said email communication has been popular, especially during the pandemic. The information will also reduce the number of calls to Westrum and the front desk that have to be transferred. The department is also required to have certain information on the website that employees are adding.

Other projects and goals:

  • Developing a department comprehensive policy and procedure manual that committee members are working on monthly. The manual is to benefit current and future employees.

  • Having an employee turnover rate of less than or equal to 12%. Through February 2021, there were zero turnovers. A high turnover rate is a national problem. People’s decisions to get a new job are most based on the stressful work environments, emotional exhaustion, the organization’s commitment to employees and their job satisfaction, according to Westrum.

  • Working on Quality Assurance Performance Improvement goals such as child protection assessments and child support officers. The goals do and will continue to save money.

  • Working to reduce the number of days that children are in out-of-home placement, which have decreased from 41 in January 2021 to 35 in February. The number of days are decreasing because children are being placed based on their and the family’s needs as well as “closely monitoring” children, according to Westrum. Available beds are still hard for the department to find.

  • A new program for case coordination of chemical dependency services. Westrum said the program will bring additional revenue for the county and offset department expenses.

“We have a great team, this wouldn’t be happening without everyone who is over there,” Westrum said. “They are shining stars for Wadena County.”

Administrative services supervisor Amie Gendron also presented the department’s costs for the services provided. The information reflects 2018 costs in Wadena County as released by the Minnesota Department of Human Services. The DHS publishes the reports two years later to have time for budget adjustments.

The health programs are the most expensive at $39,217,111. Social service program costs came in at $15,413,446. Support program costs were $3,507,904. The services are paid for by federal, state and county sources.

See the list of service costs:

The Minnesota report is available on the DHS website.

In other action

Commissioners also approved:

  • Surveyor services for CSAH 4 to hopefully sell a portion of the remaining parcel. The sale would be public following the easement process.

  • A one year labor contract between the county and the International Union of Operating Engineers No. 49 for the highway department. The contract will place the union on the same schedule as the other labor groups.

The board also had a closed session on negotiation strategies for additional labor contracts.