May 29, 2024

County learns of Health and Human Services changes

Union County Board of Supervisors were informed Monday of the changes related to the merger and restructuring of state government agencies beginning July 1.

Executive Officer Mindy Norwood and Service Area Manager Jana Rhoads, from the Iowa Health and Human Services, told the supervisors Union County all financial support services will be under community access. “A complete new division managing all programs statewide,” Rhoads said.

The service area for child welfare is under family well being and protection division and there is a new child protective services director.

“That is the structure we are operating under now,” she said.

Rhoads said the restructure is designed to have policymakers and field practioners’ communication better and to make sure, “We are in alignment and all service areas counties statewide are practicing the same.”

Union County is one of eight that will be in a new service area manager and a new business manager. The western service includes Union Counties with 30 additional counties.

“It’s a massive change,” Rhoads said.

Rhoads said one of the factors with the reorganization is the number of children living in the service areas.

“Look at child population, there are 211,000 children in 15 counties including Polk,” she said about a service area. “All the other service areas have much less. With realignment we are looking to more equality the amount of children in service areas.”

Rhoads said the exclusions for number of children in the western territory are Pottawattamie and Woodbury counties.

“But there are still sparsely populated children. There are not a lot of counties that have a lot of children and some are shrinking,” she said.

Supervisor Dennis Hopkins asked if the distance within the territory and time management will lessen services.

“We are looking at the exact same thing; how much oversight to so many counties because of distance. We are hoping for additional support for this merger,” Rhoads said.

All adult protective service workers have moved under new structure as they still in same counties; but have different management, Rhoads explained.

“We have to figure out howe we cover everything and transition families and make sure services are not disrupted,” she said. Rhoads emphasized, service are not being eliminated it’s just under a different layer of management.

Gov. Kim Reynolds signed her agency reorganization plan in early April.

The governor said Iowa’s system of agencies and departments will begin working through the processes of restructuring and consolidation in the months before the official enactment of Senate File 514 on July 1. While there may be a “bumps” along the way, Reynolds said, she hopes to have much of the mergers ready by the enactment date.

“For the most part, we should have things where we need, so you know, we’ll be operating from that perspective,” Reynolds said. “So there might be some stragglers but … that’s the goal right now and the intent, and we should be close.”

The nearly 1,600-page bill was one of Reynolds’ highest priorities for the 2023 legislative session, and made it through both chambers with minimal changes. Now enacted, the bill begins the process of compressing Iowa’s current 37 executive-level cabinet agencies down to 16, as well as changing some of the powers of the governor and attorney general.

Democrats proposed amendments for some of the concerns Iowans raised about changes like making the Office of the Consumer Advocate a division under the attorney general’s office and moving the Iowa Child Advocacy Board to the Department of Health and Human Services, changes which opponents said will removes the independence necessary for these entities to operate in the best interest of Iowans. The only changes to the bill approved were technical language fixes by the Senate.

Senate Democratic Leader Zach Wahls criticized the bill signing, calling it a power grab that takes away checks and balances from government offices and gives the governor the ability to appoint and set salaries for “friends and cronies.”

The governor worked with the Virginia-based consulting firm Guidehouse LLP , using nearly $1 million in federal American Rescue Plan Act federal in creating the reorganization plan.

Rep. Amy Nielsen, the ranking Democrat on the House State Government Committee, said the bill prioritizes special interests over Iowans who voiced their concerns with the changes.

“Far too many of the bills like this one have been authored by out of state consultants or special interest groups without real input from Iowans,” Nielsen said. “It’s a power grab and one of the reasons people are so frustrated with politics these days.”

Reynolds said the bill will save taxpayers money, citing the governor’s office finding the more than $214 million in savings over four years. Reorganization will also make Iowans’ interactions with the government easier, she said.

“Builders now must work across four separate agencies to get the licenses and inspections required of them, and that truly slows down the process, but that’s not going to be the case anymore,” she said.

Moving forward, she said many of the departmental changes will follow the example of Iowa’s former departments of Public Health and Human Services, which officially merged in August 2022.

Iowa Capital Dispatch contributed to this story.

John Van Nostrand

JOHN VAN NOSTRAND

An Iowa native, John's newspaper career has mostly been in small-town weeklies from the Rocky Mountains to the Mississippi River. He first stint in Creston was from 2002 to 2005.