Mental health region considers change in hiring policy

In 2012, Iowa transitioned to managing mental health care by region, instead of by county.

Now, the 22-county region which includes Webster County is considering making the employees regional employees instead of county employees.

The region known as County Social Services is examining the pros and cons of this possibility — and there is a lot to consider on both sides, said Bob Lincoln, CSS chief executive officer.

“It’s a complex issue,” Lincoln said.

The process started back in July when the CSS board hired a human resources consultant “to assess the opportunity of standardizing salaries and policies and procedures across the region,” he said.

That consultant will present his proposal to the board on Feb. 27 in Allison, Butler County.

“He will be bringing that proposal to the board at their February meeting for really their first discussion on the subject,” Lincoln said.

Webster County Supervisor Mark Campbell joined the CSS board just this year, and said he isn’t sure what he thinks of the proposal yet.

“This was the first meeting we went to,” Campbell said.

The consultant has found a lot of similarity among counties, he said.

“They went through the 22 county handbooks, and the consultant said they’re 98 percent the same, and now they’re trying to look at pay scales,” said Campbell. “There are some counties that are adamantly against it; there are some employees that are adamantly against it. Now it’s going to be the board to sit down and see what direction to take on it.”

Hiring employees by region instead of by county might be helpful in cases where work is being done outside the county.

“I think the biggest challenge we have is as we grow and as we have staff turnover, we’re seeing some of our counties uncomfortable employing staff that won’t be working just within their county,” Lincoln said. “In ISTART, for example, we are now providing services in southern Iowa, and in the Storm Lake region, and it’s hard to ask the member counties to employ staff that live not only outside the county, but outside the region. That’s one issue.

“The other issue is the equity of treating everybody in County Social Services fairly. Having the same salary increases, cost of living increases, having the same policy and procedures.

“But the cons are many as well,” Lincoln said. “It’s been very cost-effective to use the resources of our member counties for HR and payroll, and those types of things, that if we went forward we would have to assume some of those indirect costs ourselves.”

CSS may face numerous changes in the coming year. In 2018, counties including Cerro Gordo, Kossuth, Winnebago, Worth and Hancock announced plans to leave the region. Some of those plans had to be put on hold. However, if they do move forward, these changes would require Webster, Humboldt, Pocahontas and Wright counties to join a new region as well.