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Washington County plans for additional health care mandates

Washington County is expected to see a jump in health care assistance next year, continued efforts to help neglected and abused children and an increase in family health home visits.

The county's Community Services Department budget reflects the changes that will up the costs by 1 percent, totaling $39 million.

Community Services Director Dan Papin said with the new state-run health care exchange program, also known as "MNSure," starting this October and coverage beginning in January, the county is expected to see an additional 2,636 cases come through.

"The most controversial and fastest growing area in that division," he told Washington County commissioners at an Aug. 27 budget presentation. "A lot of work needs to be done."

The expansion of the health care services requires additional staff, which the county will receive state reimbursements for at 75 percent.

Cases are also projected to grow over the next few years, from around 10,000 currently to over 12,000 in 2016, according to county estimates.

County officials approved hiring nine new workers earlier this year to help process and manage additional cases. The county will only contribute a quarter of the expenses while the state grants pay the rest, Papin said.

The Community Services Department is proposing a $39.2 million budget with half of the revenues coming from the county tax levy, a third from federal sources and 15 percent from state sources.

The department's expenses fall into six major categories: social services, economic assistance, mental and chemical health, workforce center and veterans services.

Papin said in chemical health, the department admitted 646 into detox in 2012, with expenses of nearly $240,000.

Social services programs also play a major role in the department, with a $15.7 million proposed budget in 2014.

"The needs we see for kids are heightened," Papin said of the child protection category, which sees 3,500 calls of abuse annually.

Child protection cases are becoming more complex, he said, with some involving multiple agencies investigating cases of child abuse and neglect.

Additionally, the foster care program suffered from a down economy with potential parents unable to take children in due to financial hardships.

Community Services did see positive numbers in youth intervention programs last year with truancy rates declining and 265 school attendance interventions completed, Papin said.

Washington County officials last week also reviewed the Public Health and Environment Department budget, which includes a community health improvement plan and a groundwater plan. It will also implement a solid waste master plan and evaluate the county environmental charge.

The department is proposing a $13.4 million budget for 2014, an increase of 4 percent from 2013.

The department is seeing an increase in family health home visits, and an increase in jail medical services and costs, according to county officials.

The expansion of Medical Assistance, through the federal Affordable Care Act, is expected to provide more people with health care coverage, and may impact the services the department provides. Also, as the housing market improves, there will be more septic systems that will require replacement and inspection.

The Washington County Extension budget was also reviewed last week. It includes money for a 4-H coordinator, and a Youth Teaching Youth program coordinator.

The budget calls for a 1.5 percent increase from last year, for a total of $286,509. The Extension office is asking that Washington County contribute $159,200 of that, including money from the county levy, and in-kind office operations expenditures. The remainder of the funds is from grants, fundraising and dues.

County officials will continue reviewing the budget before setting the preliminary levy Sept. 10 and adopting the final budget in December.

Riham Feshir
Riham Feshir is a reporter and photographer for the Woodbury Bulletin. Her coverage includes Woodbury City Hall, Washington County Board of Commissioners and business news.  Follow Riham on Twitter @RihamFeshir for the latest updates.