July 26, 2021

Tensions rising: Board of Health re-addressing home care program elimination

At a meeting that ended with multiple people talking over each other and order thrown out the window, the Jasper Country Board of Health did make a decision concerning the home care program. The board moved to defer the decision to eliminate the program at least a week when a special meeting will be held to discuss the topic.

At its July meeting, the board agreed to dissolve the home care program after being charged by the Jasper County Board of Supervisors to look at the department’s financials. The board then held an additional meeting in August to gain public feedback on the matter.

At Thursday’s meeting, several people were in attendance and made their opinion of the decision known. Most spoke without identifying themselves, giving impassioned statements and posing additional questions to the board.

“In the July meeting it said you were going to look at taking the fluff out of the program but were not looking to devastate a program but this program has been devastated. I used to work for Jasper County Home Health Care and there were times they couldn’t get people on to the elderly waiver,” one person said.

Another person asked if any of the questions asked at the August meeting would be addressed by the board. Board chair Margot Voshell said many of the questions were about the cost of the program, which was laid out in a packet she referred to at the meeting.

“Many of the questions were the cost of the program, $84 per hour versus the average cost of our county at $30 per hour, that is a significant amount of savings. The people we have provided services to, we set aside money so they can still have services,” Voshell said. “The cost of doing is more than $85, we would have to cut down to that $30. The cost of doing business for a program is high whether there is one person or 100 people so the opportunity to serve people within our county, be the referral source and the intake source, at the direction of the board of supervisors taken into consideration.”

Via Zoom, citizen Jean Lewis asked about where the funds currently budgeted for the program will be reallocated to if they are no longer used by home care.

“How are you re-appropriating that $450,000 that was budgeted for this program for this fiscal year. I understand the supervisor, Brandon Talsma, tasked you to start taking a look at the budget. He indicated to me it was not intended to be for this fiscal year, 2021, but looking forward to 2021-22. How as the rest of that half a million dollars being re-appropriated in the county? You indicated the board has considered all of the options and now today at this time to vote. When did you do that consideration and was that in open session?” Lewis said.

While no answer was given on where the funds would be moved to, Voshell said she would look to answer the question. Jasper County Human Resources Director Dennis Simon also reaffirmed the charge of the supervisors to county departments to find cost saving measures within the county.

“Chairman Talsma attended the board of health and challenged not only the board of health but has challenged other departments with looking at financials based on COVID and reduction in tax dollars, challenged the board of health to review its budget and look at what they can do to reduce costs,” Simon said. “I know as a department head, I have been through that meeting with the board as well and every department is looking at how they can reduce costs and services, yet still take care of the tax payers.”

To “take care of the tax payers,” the board has designated $50,000 to be used for those citizens who may “fall in between the gaps.”

“$50,000 would go directly to the people who need it and to services that will provide it. There won’t be any administrative costs, so it will go directly to the people who truly need the money,” Voshell said.

Dr. Andrew Cope, medical director on the board of health, made the motion to defer the vote citing wanting additional information about the consideration to eliminate the program.

“It obviously affects more people than what we have given it consideration for,” Cope said. “We have not, amongst the board, discussed any of the comments that were given at the open session where people were able to express their view points and I think amongst the board we owe it to them to take those comments into consideration, regardless of the outcome.”

He said he was of the understanding the board would have a timeframe to plan for the program shuttering and give notice to those involved. While he knows budgets change from year to year, he did not realize the board was under a tight time crunch.

“As a board, I feel as though if we were tasked with an opportunity to take a look at a program and become the experts of the program. When you see it is costing much more than it could be provided in our community while people are still being served, then it is our due diligence to explore that and make sure we have a robust conversation as opposed to continuing with a program, even though the money has been budgeted,” Voshell said. “If we discover there are monies or services not being provided then it is our obligation as a board to take a look at that, whether it is one day after a budget or two months or three weeks or one year, that it is our obligation to look at the numbers and have robust conversation as opposed to sitting and waiting another year. We owe that to the tax payers of our county to explore options in which monies can be save while services still be provided.”

Home care director Brenda Steenhoek said she is still looking for direction on who she is to refer clients to, either from the county or the board of health.

“I can’t refer them on until I know who I am referring them to,” Steenhoek said. “I would also like to have the board be thinking about severance. Dennis told us that is your decision and not the board of supervisors. If you are thinking about severance, now is the time to think about it because tick tock, tick tock.”

Before the meeting broke down, Voshell reminded those in attendance the home care program is not mandated by the state and could be eliminated by the supervisors at any time.

“The board of supervisors, at any time, could just draw a red line right through that,” Voshell said. “As a board, we looked at the money, wanted to be proactive, wanted to make sure people are taken care of in our community and set aside funding.”

With the Oct. 9 date quickly approaching for the original end of the program, the board set a meeting for 11 a.m. Sept. 17 at the Jasper County Courthouse for a follow up to answer questions and potentially make a decision.

“I would like to understand a little bit better from the board of supervisors request from us for budget elimination,” Cope said. “When did they want it, how much did they want it eliminated by, the purpose of that would be helpful.”

Contact Jamee A. Pierson at 641-792-3121 ext. 6534 or jpierson@newtondailynews.com