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County moves ahead with privatization of mental health services

Goodhue County will seek proposals from third parties to privatize the Mental Health Center and related services.

Health and Human Services Board passed an unanimous motion Tuesday directing staff to continue developing a request for proposal. A preliminary timeline would have the RFP released as early as month's end.

HHS Board members reiterated a need for caution in the RFP process, and that the board should give prospective candidates enough time to research the mental health needs in the county before responding.

"There's a lot of information we're asking for," said Dan Rechtzigel, HHS board member and Goodhue County commissioner. "I wouldn't want to just give someone two weeks (to respond)."

HHS Board member and County Commissioner Jim Bryant suggested keeping the RFP timeline flexible.

"People are going to need time to digest what we're asking for," he said.

Two prospective organizations that responded to a request for information earlier in the year indicated they could have a proposal ready in around three to six months, HHS Board member Gary Iocco said.

HHS Director Nina Arneson said it would be important to work closely with organizations once a proposal is approved to ensure a smooth transition for county residents currently using mental health services.

"We have to remember that we're dealing with some of the most vulnerable customers here," Arneson said. "Any change is significant."

Rechtzigel also clarified the approved motion was to release an RFP, but it does not necessarily force the county to close the Mental Health Center or privatize services.

HHS Board discussed options for mental health services at a meeting Aug. 6. Members agreed to pursue privatizing the Mental Health Center while continuing to operate the Community Support Program.

The goal of privatization is to increase efficiency and availability to more county residents.

A disproportionate number of Red Wing residents use the Mental Health Center — which is located in downtown Red Wing — compared to the rest of the county.

Transferring operation of the Mental Health Center also would cut seven government jobs and around $700,000 in spending each year, HHS Board members said.

County Board took over mental health services from Zumbro Valley Mental Health Center in 1999.

The Mental Health Center serves around 1,200 patients a year, many of whom do not have health insurance.

County Attorney Steve Betcher suggested the RFP include a paragraph stating the county will work with organizations to review which services they can provide, as well as developing partnerships or subcontracts for those they do not.

"We have to have people who can continue to provide services in an orderly fashion and we need to be able to assure our clients those services will be there," Betcher said.

Rechtzigel said the board should remain open to a variety of proposals and not reject one because an organization does not provide a particular service.

"If we do get proposals back and there are some areas where there are gaps, are there other entities that can fill those gaps or is it a deal killer?" Rechtzigel asked. "That is what we would need to look at."

Michael Brun

Michael Brun joined RiverTown Multimedia at the Red Wing Republican Eagle in March 2013, covering county government, health and local events.  He is a graduate of the University of Wisconsin-River Falls journalism program.

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