Contract Coordination Saves Counties Time, Energy, and Resources
Region 5 increases its social services contract efficiency with shared services position
Charitie Herbst, Regional County Contracts Coordinator, and Brad Vold, Director of Social Services in Morrison County, listen to a current social service provider as they meet to discuss a regional contract that will benefit Cass, Crow Wing, Morrison, Todd, and Wadena counties
By Jenny Holmes
It all started three years ago, around a table of Social Services Directors from Region 5.
That particular day, this consortium of leaders spawned an idea of sharing resources to cut costs to each of their counties, without compromising service or quality to their residents and clients.
Brad Vold, Director of Social Services in Morrison County, was one of the five at the table that day. He said the group came together with the intent of applying for Innovation Funding from National Joint Powers Alliance (NJPA). The funding would, in turn, be used to hire one person that could be shared among the five counties in the area of creating and maintaining contracts for social services.
Although they weren't chosen for the Innovation Funding, the idea caught the attention of NJPA; especially those within the Shared Services area.
“Even though we didn't get the funding, we decided this was an important project that needed to move forward,” Vold said.
After the group of directors met with representatives from NJPA, a position description and cost allocation plan was created. Last fall, Charitie Herbst was hired as the Regional County Contracts Coordinator.
Herbst said she had been working as a paralegal in Stearns County before taking on the new position. She said this role has been eye-opening for her as she now has an opportunity to experience the complexity of the social services world.
“I'm learning more and more about the many mental health services available throughout the region,” she said. “I've also enjoyed building relationships with county directors and supervisors, as well as providers throughout the area.”
Herbst said her role in social services contract management is a prime example of the quality services available to a group of entities when they pool their resources. While Herbst is employed and paid through NJPA, each of the participating counties contributes based upon population.
In her work, Herbst works closely with Cass, Crow Wing, Morrison, Todd, and Wadena counties and their social services departments in overseeing contracts and agreements. She also serves as a liaison between the county and the variety of service providers utilized. The bottom line is to create efficiencies and streamline processes. Herbst said she is currently working with NJPA's legal department to create one, consistent contract template that can be adopted and utilized by all Region 5 counties.
Last year alone, Herbst assisted with 122 social services contracts, 219 group residential housing contracts, and 12 adult mental health initiative contracts throughout the region. Vold said Herbst's involvement in streamlining, coordinating and polishing group residential housing contracts last year, when all counties were required to reissue their documents, was invaluable.
Herbst is the second person to hold this particular position. When Morrison County began to explore the option of finding an organization to manage and maintain a drop-in center for people with mental health issues, NJPA's first Contract Specialist oversaw the Request for Proposal process as well as created a contract to meet the needs of the center, ensuring it would be a successful and safe place for the individuals it was created to serve. The ability to effectively negotiate contracts is also a benefit to any and all counties involved, Vold said.
“It not only saved Morrison County time, but it also allowed us to take our time on the process and find the right organization best suited for the job. It worked very well to have someone like this on board.”
Vold said, as the position grows and evolves, he anticipates even more processes streamlined to improve efficiencies and cost savings.
“It has been an interesting job,” Herbst said of the learning curve. “It's been fun to visit places, meet people and attend meetings in different counties. I'm really working on building relationships. That's important to me.”
Herbst said she has had the opportunity to tour a variety of mental health facilities and is working on an adult mental health initiative that involves Region 5 plus Aitkin County. The six counties receive funding annually to help fill gaps existing in the mental health community.
Another big undertaking Herbst has been involved in is the recent implementation of video cameras in jail facilities to allow for on-site mental health counseling. Herbst said NJPA is in an excellent position to facilitate collaborations, such as this, with its members.
Herbst said a similar shared services program in social services has been successfully modeled in the Olmsted County area where one specialist handles contracts over a 10-county area.
“They’ve also found it to be very beneficial for all the counties involved,” Herbst noted. “It's not just the cost savings, alone. It makes things, overall, easier on each of the participating counties. You're able to streamline processes and ensure consistency across the board. And I believe that's a win-win for everyone.”
Sourcewell (formerly National Joint Powers Alliance) is a self-supporting government organization, partnering with education, government, and nonprofits to boost student and community success. Created in 1978 as one of Minnesota's nine service cooperatives, we offer training and shared services to our central-Minnesota members. Throughout North America, we offer a cooperative purchasing program with over 200 awarded vendors on contract. Sourcewell is driven by service and the ability to strategically reinvest in member communities.