Merger Aims to Streamline Human Services

With state approval, it won’t be long before Door County’s Community Programs and Social Services departments merge into one Department of Human Services.

The combined boards of the Community Programs and Social Services departments reviewed and approved the county’s Department of Human Services implementation plan on July 18. That plan lays out a framework for how the new department will be organized, but according to Community Programs Director Joe Krebsbach, nothing is yet set in stone.

“It’s very general, and I left it that way on purpose,” said Krebsbach. “It’s going to flex in terms of how we set it up.”

Discussions on merging the Community Programs and Social Services departments date back to 1980, but the state’s creation of a new, required Aging and Disability Resource Center (ADRC) and Family Care program pushed this latest effort, which began in June 2011, through to approval by the county board.

Building up Family Care, which is the state’s new long-term care program, and the ADRC, which is designed to be an information center for those who are aging or living with a disability, has required the departments to work in concert for the last several years.

According to the Human Services implementation plan, the operation of these new programs, which would crossover between departments, will be better served by operating as one department.

The merger will also allow the departments to better coordinate and serve the clients using their current programs, many of whom are served by both departments.

“We literally could not talk to each other about clients who we might both have gotten a referral on because we were separate departments,” said Social Services Director Roger Tepe. “Now we’re all dissolved, for the most part, inside this one structure, so we can share information more readily.”

While the initial distribution of the workload has been agreed upon, detailing an exact Department of Human Services budget and merging the departments’ support staff are among the things that still need to be accomplished for the merger to run smoothly.

“The goal is to keep staffing the same the first year as we learn to work better together,” said Krebsbach. “We’re understaffed in a couple areas actually, as we struggle to keep up with state mandates.”

While Door County has joined the Northeast Wisconsin Family Care district, comprised of Door, Brown, Kewaunee, Marinette, Menomonie, Oconto, and Shawano counties, it is not one of the 57 counties in Wisconsin that currently provide Family Care.

The district’s development of the program stalled as a result of budget caps that the state legislature placed on Family Care last July. Those caps are currently under review.

Door County’s ADRC will be operational as of January 2, 2013. Krebsbach said that he hopes to start recruiting staff for the ADRC by October, and that the implementation plans for both the ADRC and the Department of Human Services will likely be sent to the necessary state agencies for approval before the end of the month.