Lincoln County Board digs heels in on NCHC dissolution
In the wake of apparent intent by the Marathon County Board of Supervisors to terminate the 44-year-old Tri-County agreement of North Central Health Care, Lincoln County Supervisors weighed in on a drafted letter to Marathon County during last week’s monthly meeting.
If the withdrawal were to take place, Lincoln and Langlade counties could be left in a precarious position in terms of finding services currently provided by NCHC including mental health, AODA, children’s services from ages birth to three years of age as well as adult protective services.
The letter expressed both encouragement for Marathon County to uphold the agreement, as well as a warning of sorts.
In the letter on behalf of the board dated Aug. 16, reference partnership with Langlade and Marathon counties to operate a multi-county department of community programs known as North Central Health Care, the letter states;
“Since 1972, the governing bodies of Marathon, Lincoln and Langlade counties have partnered together to operate a multi-county department of community programs, known as the Northcentral Community Services Program or North Central Health Care (NCHC). We understand that the Marathon County Board of Supervisors will be asked to consider approving a resolution to withdraw from this partnership in the near future.
“We believe our partnership can come together to modernize our current agreement to include stronger controls on service, quality and costs for services provided without initiating the withdrawal process.
“The purpose of this letter is to advise you that Lincoln and Langlade counties remain committed to the partnership with Marathon County. In the event that Marathon County withdraws from this partnership, the joint agreement provides that North Central Health Care can continue with sponsorship by Lincoln and Langlade counties. Before the Marathon County Board considers a resolution to withdraw, we respectfully request that we first have the opportunity to discuss the matter as partners. Whether to withdraw from this partnership is a monumental decision which will have long-lasting implications for our communities.
“Just as the creation of this partnership required all three counties to work together toward a common goal; we believe that it is in our best interests to work together at this time and provide us with the opportunity to improve the system we created over 40 years ago.”
2nd District Supervisor and board vice-chairman Bob Weaver spoke in favor of the letter.
“As Marathon County has continued the process of considering withdrawing from NCHC, they have excluded Lincoln and Langlade counties,” he said during discussion last Tuesday. “We believe we are at a point in the Marathon County decision making where the Marathon County Board must hear from the Lincoln County Board.
“Official and public statement from the Lincoln and Langlade county boards must make it clear we have had a great relationship for over 40 years. If they (Marathon) pull out, Lincoln County will not wait around and follow their lead. We are under the understanding, Marathon County feels if they pull the rug out from everyone, Lincoln and Langlade will contract with them for services. There are quite a few problems with that.”
District 12 Supervisor Paul Gilk spoke in caution of the letter and particular wording of the associated resolution.
“I feel language regarding ‘notice about preparations being made’ is not necessary and could be seen as being provocative,” he explained. “I don’t think we should tell them we will not use their services. We may end up having to use them. I’m not happy about it but it’s a possibility.”
The language in the resolution Gilk is referring to reads:
“WHEREAS, given the actions undertaken by the Marathon County Board, Lincoln County is compelled to and is currently reviewing its options. At this time, the Administrative and Legislative Committee recommends providing notice to its partners (Marathon and Langlade County Boards) regarding the preparations being made by Lincoln County to transition the delivery of its community programs and WHEREAS, among the options being considered by the Committee include joining an existing multi-county departments of community programs, and/or continuing Northcentral Health Care with Langlade County, and at this time, it is appropriate to notify our partners that Lincoln County is considering contractual arrangements with other counties and service providers to ensure smooth transition of these services to residents of Lincoln County”
“I don’t think we should be sticking our thumbs in anyone’s eye,” Gilk continued. “I don’t want this body to send any message which may be perceived as we are a bunch of snots. Even if we are angry and disappointed, courtesy is still important.”
“I am under the impression Marathon County is trying to dissolve NCHC as an entity and then have Lincoln and Langlade contract with them,” argued County Corporation Counsel Nancy Bergstrom. “The difference between NCHC being owned by three counties and Marathon County delivering all services is, Marathon County alone sets the price and we just go along with it. That paragraph is written as is, to send the message for them not to assume we will just go along with this.”
11th District Supervisor Hans Breitenmoser spoke in favor of the need for a strong message to be sent across the southern county border.
“If Corporation Counsel is correct and Marathon County thinks they have us over a barrel, maybe our language needs to be even stronger,” he added. “I’m confident some Marathon County supervisors have the idea they have us over a barrel and we will come to them for services, so maybe we should make it clear they should not assume we will use their services.”
“I have read the letter over several times and I think the language states exactly what we have been feeling and discussing as a board,” added 20th District Supervisor Carl Vander Sanden.
“I don’t like the idea of talking tough either,” said board chairman Bob Lee. “But I think we are sending an honest message here. I don’t think we are insulting anyone here, but we are taking a position with this letter.”
Administrative Coordinator Randy Scholz indicated he planned to take the board’s message to a public hearing held Monday evening by the Marathon County Health and Human Services committee.
“I plan to speak at the hearing but I won’t be sticking my thumb in anyone’s eye,” Scholz said. “My message will be polite, but I think it’s important they know where we stand on this.”
“The saddest part of all this is the need for these services will not go away,” added 1st District Supervisor Bill Bialecki. “I commend this board for pursuing this.”
As Scholz alluded to, the Marathon County Health and Human Services Committee convened Monday evening with a public hearing.
As noted on that meeting agenda, the explanation of the hearing is as follows:
“Recommendation adopted by this committee to be forwarded to the County Board for further action: Marathon County shall terminate the existing tri-county agreement with the intention that Marathon County seek to contract for behavioral health and AODA services with service providers through its standard procurement process. For the first three years following the effective date of the termination (calendar years 2018, 2019, 2020), North Central Health Care would be the provider of these services unless equal levels of services can contracted for a lower cost. In the event equal levels of care and equal levels of service quality can be obtained at a lower cost from a provider other than North Central Health Care, Marathon County is free to contract with said providers.”
“We need to make sure we are providing for our tax payers and continue with services required and mandated of us,” Scholz stated following board approval of the letter and resolution last Tuesday. “We’re not going to sit around and wait to see what Marathon County chooses to do, that would not be fair to our county residents.
“We will be proactive in seeing what options are out there and available to us. Our board and the Langlade County board hopes to continue with the NCHC agreement. If Marathon chooses to pull out, we have to look at ways to provide those services. It will be a bit tougher for us seeing as how the NCHC facility is located in Wausau and under Marathon County control.”