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Beltrami County Board: Commissioners vote to discontinue homemaking services

On a 3-2 vote, the Beltrami County Board decided Tuesday to eliminate the Health and Human Services homemaking program for disabled and elderly clients.

County Commissioners Jim Lucachick, Jack Frost and Joe Vene voted in favor of the move, while Commissioners Jim Heltzer and Quentin Fairbanks voted against it.

Health and Human Services Director Mary Marchel proposed discontinuing the service to 167 county clients during a work session Sept. 1. County Board members asked for a thorough description of the plan to phase out the services by the end of the year, as a savings in 2010 of $105,921.

Marchel pointed out that of the 167 homemaking clients, only 68 received that service alone. The rest are also part of other Health and Human Services care programs.

She said during the Sept. 1 work session that discontinuing the homemaking services was a response to the reduction in state funding in Gov. Tim Pawlenty's unallotment.

"I can't tell you it's not difficult to stand here and ask for a decision on this," she said.

Marchel cited three private companies that also provide homemaking services and said they are "eager" to take on county clients. The private companies are Interfaith Caregivers, Touching Hearts at Home and Good Samaritan Society. She said these companies could be interested in hiring the county homemaking employees, and Health and Human Services case managers would guide clients to companies that fit their needs.

Marchel laid out the steps by which the county would phase out the homemaking services:

- Stop referrals for homemaking immediately.

- Notify clients, employees and the labor union.

- Notify the three private providers.

- Help clients choose a homemaking service suited to their needs.

- Complete the process by Dec. 31.

Fairbanks and Heltzer expressed concern for the difficulties vulnerable people could face in the change. Heltzer said his constituents who mentioned the possibility of the phase-out were all against the county discontinuing homemaking services.

"I've run into nobody yet who thinks this is a great idea," Heltzer said.

He added that saving money by withdrawing services to vulnerable citizens and eliminating county oversight for the quality of care are unacceptable. He also expressed concern about laying off county employees.

Pedie Pederson, who stayed for the County Board's discussion and vote, said he is a recipient of the homemaking services and objected to them being discontinued.

Marchel 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.

Fairbanks asked why the private homemaking services can make a profit when the services are a loss to the county.

The main reason, Marchel said, is that Beltrami County pays the homemaking employees $11.28 per hour and mileage; the private companies' pay ranges from $8-$14 per hour.

Frost acknowledged that change might be hard on some of the clients, but he said he expected the quality of service would be maintained. Besides, he said, in hard economic times, some changes are inevitable.

Vene said he understands that the clients have a comfort level in the familiarity of the people who serve them, but he said he hopes a change with the same quality of care would not cause them duress.

"I have pretty good confidence in the private sector in the United States," said Lucachick. "We know government has to shrink. That's what's coming down from above."

In other business, the County Board unanimously appointed Tyler Koos county engineer for a four-year term.