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Beltrami County: Future of homemaking services to be studied

Beltrami County Health and Human Services provides homemaking services such as cleaning, meal preparation, laundry and running errands to 68 elderly and disabled people.

There are 104 others who receive homemaking services along with other Health and Human Services programs, said Director Mary Marchel.

She suggested during the Beltrami County Board work session Tuesday that the county discontinue the homemaking services because of the reduction in state funding in Gov. Tim Pawlenty's unallotment.

"The financial realities are really driving this discussion," Marchel said. "It's costing us about $105,000 a year."

She said the 15 Beltrami County homemaking employees make about 10,000 visits per year at a cost to the county of $10.94 per visit. She said the service has been available for about 20 years, in addition to home health aide and skilled nursing services, which she recommended the county continue to offer.

Marcehl cited three private companies that also provide homemaking services and recommended the county turn the 68 clients who only use that service to Interfaith Caregivers, Touching Hearts at Home or Good Samaritan Society. She said these companies would be interested in hiring the county homemaking employees, and Health and Human Services case managers would guide clients to companies that fit their needs.

She said Beltrami County pays the homemaking employees $11.28 per hour with no benefits; the private companies pay ranges from $8-$14 per hour.

"So far, all our experience with these three entities has been good," Marchel said.

She added that the three companies have indicated they all had the capacity to add staff and clients, and all three conduct background checks on their employees.

Beltrami County Board Chairman Jim Lucachick endorsed Marchel's recommendation, as the county is subsidizing the services and losing money on them, and for-profit companies are available to take care of the people's needs.

"I think this is a really good time to privatize this," Lucachick said.

However, Commissioner Quentin Fairbanks, Commissioner Jim Heltzer and Commissioner Joe Vene expressed concerns that vulnerable people who need the service might not get it.

"I want assurances that nobody would be left behind," Fairbanks said.

He said he wants more information and urged Marchel to look at other Health and Human Services areas that could be cut.

Heltzer said in a survey of his constituents, 80 percent said they want the county to maintain the homemaking services.

Marchel said she hopes the County Board can make a decision on the homemaking services in September so the clients and homemaking employees can make a smooth transition.

The issue will be on the agenda for the Sept. 15 County Board meeting.