Clay County Social Service Divisions’ Annual Updates

Karen Newman 

“We are here today to give you a department update,” explained Clay County Social Services Director Rhonda Porter at the February 23 Commission meeting. “Every once in a while, I bring my supervisors with because they are the experts.  This year we are dividing our presentations over a couple of board meetings, just to give our supervisors the opportunity to talk a little more in detail about their program areas.”

Porter explained that the county’s Social Services Department has nine divisions and 129 full-time employees.  The county also contracts annually with more than fifty community service providers. The annual expenditures for the latest year (2019) for which complete data is available is $22,572,238. She added that the department’s annual report will be presented over a two-week period. 

Behavioral Health and Adult Protection Division data was presented by Supervisor Kirstin Wegenast.  She noted that for 2020, her division was responsible for 65 civil commitments, 380 completed chemical dependency evaluations and 95 adult protection investigations. 

Issues providing challenges for the division in 2020 included a shortage of state-operated service beds, a shortage of community providers and services, technology issues as new programs are implemented and possible budget cuts.

Supervisor Jessica Mickelson of the Licensing and Disability presented data on behalf of her division.  She noted that they do licensing on behalf of the state of Minnesota for community residential settings, adult foster care, county-certified homes, family and corporate foster and child care.  Additionally, the division provides adult and disability services intake, completes MNChoice certified assessments and provides special needs care coordination through a UCare contract.

Challenges that arose for the Licensing Division during 2020 included managing the orientation process and training for adult foster care providers, child foster home shortages, increasing daycare costs for foster families, providers retiring with no applicants to replace them, and on-line licensing for providers with limited computer skills.

Challenges for the Disability Division included a high volume of assessments and caseload sizes, on-going technology issues with state programs, complexity of the population served by Clay County Social Services, and unanticipated and sudden changes due to Covid-19.

Home and Community-Based services Division Supervisor Holllie Wanner is in charge of 12 case managers and 2 case aides.  Their services to the community include work with consumers dealing with brain injury, alternative care, disabilities, and developmental disabilities.  They provide professional assistance to relocation service coordination in nursing homes for the under 65 population, Rule 185 Developmental Disability Case Management, family support grants, county-funded respite care, semi-independent living services and day training and habilitation.

Challenges to the Home and Community-based Services Division include shortages of direct care staff, implementing and supporting person-centered practices, increasing paperwork and caseload numbers.

Commission Chair Kevin Campbell acknowledge the challenges that Covid-19 presented to the Social Services Department and thanked Porter, Wegenast, Mickelson and Wanner for the Clay County Social Service Department’s hard work.  He declared, “Go back to your staff and tell them that we appreciate everything that they had to do.  We had to do it for public safety, not only for our staff, but also for our clients that we serve.  I know it wasn’t easy.   I hope it will improve.  I’m glad you came to us and told us about the frustrations.”

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