After a long and tumultuous membership with the County Social Services Mental Health Region, four and potentially five area counties will join a new region at the beginning of the new fiscal year in July 2019. Winnebago, Worth, Hancock, and Kossuth County were accepted into the northwest regional group which now doubles in size from five to ten counties. Because of Iowa law, Emmet County is forced into the northwest region because its borders are not contiguous with any county in the County Social Services Region.
County Social Services is a 22 county mental health region which shares or pools money from all of its member counties in order to pay for mental health services for the county residents they serve. CEO Bob Lincoln has recently come under fire for gross overspending by the region leaving it over $2 million over budget. Lincoln cited that the region would pay for the overspending by drawing on funding from the following fiscal year budget. The district spent money on programs that yielded low results or didn’t properly work. One example is crisis hotline which cost over $100,000 and continually referred the callers back to the county mental health representative who referred them to the hotline to begin with.
The exodus may not end with the five counties leaving for the northwest regional group. Cerro Gordo County is exploring the option of leaving for another region. Wright, Humboldt, Pocahontas, and Webster may have to find another region to join because they would not contiguously border with County Social Service counties according to Winnebago County Supervisor Bill Jensvold. He has been an outspoken critic of the way that County Social Services has spent money, hidden exactly how many patients are actually benefitting from Winnebago, Worth, Hancock, and Kossuth Counties, and gone about moving public meetings to different times without telling certain members of the meetings.
Winnebago Supervisor Mike Stensrud, another outspoken critic of the situation, has called for a state investigation of the situation and CEO Lincoln. He along with Jensvold and Supervisor Terry Durby moved to ask the Iowa Attorney General to investigate County Social Services business practices. Supervisors in Worth and Hancock County have also voted to ask the same.
The move was accelerated when long time employee, Sandy Mireles received word that her position with County Social Services had been eliminated due to the overspending. Mireles and several others who have worked with County Social Services say that Mireles had not been given any budget figures that would have indicated she was overspending when she approved treatment expenditures. Those figures remained in the confidence of Lincoln and other top officials according to Mireles, Stensrud, Durby, and Jensvold. Mireles has since been hired back by Winnebago County on a temporary basis until a new 28E Sharing Agreement is established between the three counties including Hancock and Worth.