New staff could help better Rock County’s mental health

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November 6, 2007
— You can call it a good moral decision or a good financial one.

Either way, Rock County Human Services Department workers think proposed staff additions will be good for the whole county.

The budget proposes two new workers to the county’s Community Support Program, which provides services to people with “serious or persistent mental illness” or addictions. That’s 2.5 percent of the population, said Community Support Supervisor Brad Munger.

One in five families is affected by mental illness, he said.

“Mental illness is not the result of bad parenting, poverty or poor moral structure,” Munger said. “It is the result of biochemical processes in the brain. That can happen to anybody.”

Marion Long of Beloit knows firsthand what a lifesaver Community Support can be. With help from case workers such as Rhonda Doherty, Long has stayed out of the hospital and in her own apartment for eight years.

“When I first started coming (to Community Support), I had been in the hospital all the time,” said Long, 54. “Rhonda and I have worked really hard. I even have a job now.”

Long is one of 270 participants in the program who are served by 23.5 clinical workers, Munger said.

Long’s case workers, who prefer the term care workers, bring her medication and work with her to create short- and long-term goals, she said.

Workers also take clients shopping, help with checkbooks, make doctor and dentist appointments and forge relationships with landlords.

Clients vary from single working moms to the homeless. But overall, the number of those needing help in Rock County is growing, Munger said, even if they’re not easy to pick out as disabled.

“They’re not walking in on crutches, and they don’t have a Seeing Eye dog,” Munger said. “But mental illness affects someone’s ability to perceive accurately, think clearly, to feel, to know how they feel … behaviors conducive to having a normal life, to becoming an employee, a student, a parent, a neighbor.”

Additional staff will allow the department to support more people and give better care to those who need it, Munger said.

That could help taxpayers avoid spending money on more expensive treatment such as a stay in a mental health facility or repeated trips to the emergency room, said Denny Luster, crisis intervention supervisor.

“If we don’t put the money forward now, all of us will end up paying for it later,” Luster said. “And we have an ethical obligation to make sure they’re getting the care they need.”

What’s next?

The Rock County Board will host a public hearing for the proposed 2008 budget at 6 p.m. Wednesday in the county board room at the Rock County Courthouse.

The board could approve the budget at 9 a.m. Tuesday, Nov. 13.

Proposed budget

The Rock County Board sat down Monday morning to go over county Administrator Craig Knutson’s proposed 2008 budget line by line.

Some budget highlights and comment’s from Monday’s meeting:

-- The budget focuses on human services. Knutson is recommending three new child protective services positions, two new positions for the Community Support Program and three new positions in the Juvenile Justice Division.

Grant money will pay for part of those staff additions.

An increase in calls to the child protective services and decreases in federal funding for those services make up part of the drive for the changes.

-- Knutson wants to pass on one of two $21,000 climbing boulders requested for Carver-Roehl Park and spend the money on fixing wells in other county parks. Some of the wells have tested positive for bacteria and might need new seals or pumps, he said.

“We’ve been sliding by the issue, so to speak, and using the Band-Aid approach,” said county board Chairman Richard Ott.

-- Knutson did not recommend the addition of a working supervisor at the Southern Wisconsin Regional Airport, but instead suggested a promotion and the addition of a seasonal worker.

Some supervisors said that wasn’t enough.

“I don’t think it’s fair for someone to work for a salary in Rock County and be expected to work 24 hours,” said Supervisor Betty Jo Bussie about airport Director Ron Burdick, adding that he often works from his cell phone when he’s off duty.

Extra money?

A change in a state accounting formula could mean thousands of extra dollars for Rock County in 2009.

The state budget passed last month allows older power plants to generate shared energy revenues the same way newer plants do.

Power plants are nontaxable, but they make payments to the state; the state passes some of the money on to counties and municipalities. Plants built since 2002 have made payments based on their capacity to create energy. Plants built prior to that paid on a depreciating scale, meaning cities and counties got less money each year.

Phil Boutwell, assistant to the Rock County administrator, said the change could mean an extra:

-- $405,000 for Rock County.

-- $164,000 for the town of Beloit.

-- $67,000 for the city of Beloit.

-- $22,000 for the town of Fulton.

The money is general property tax relief, Boutwell said. To make the change work, the state will have to put money into the formula in 2008, he said.

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