Among those making budget requests at last week's Lake County Commission meeting were Madison Regional Health System (MRHS), Valiant Living and DakotAbilities. All three provide important services to Lake County residents.

While MRHS operates an ambulance service, the other two provide services for those with developmental disabilities. DakotAbilities has not previously requested funding from the county.

MRHS subsidizes ambulance

Tammy Miller, MRHS CEO, requested $40,000 from Lake County for fiscal year 2022. For the past two years, commissioners have allocated $30,000.

"To run the ambulance service runs close to $400,000," Miller told commissioners last week. This is being subsidized by the medical facility. "It's the people we're serving who are subsidizing that."

Last year, the ambulance service responded to 552 calls. Miller said that number was down as a result of the pandemic. Normally, the service responds to more than 600 calls annually.

Chair Kelli Wollmann told Miller that commissioners appreciate all that MRHS does for the county.

"We're fortunate to have such an outstanding facility here," she said.

Commissioner Deb Reinicke asked Miller whether MRHS had plans to reopen urgent care. Miller said the facility is exploring telehealth as an alternative.

"We know urgent care is important to patients, but we were not seeing the numbers to justify the costs," she indicated.

Commissioner Dennis Slaughter asked Miller for the replacement schedule for ambulances. Miller said she did not have that information with her, but she stated they do not have a new ambulance in the budget for this year. Currently, the newer ambulance is used for transporting patients to another medical facility and the old one is used within the county.

Valiant Living short-staffed

Donna Uthe, Valiant Living executive director, asked for financial support to assist with training staff and to help cover the costs of a monitoring system used to address staff shortages. In her letter requesting $5,000, she noted that those served by Valiant Living contribute to the community.

Uthe briefly reviewed the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the organization. For more than a year, services were provided to individuals in their homes rather than at the center.

"We couldn't have gotten through this without my dedicated staff," she said. "My staff are truly amazing."

To train staff, Valiant Living uses an internet-based program called Open Futures. The county allocation will be used to cover these training costs as well as to help cover the cost of Sengistix, a remote monitoring system being piloted due to ongoing staff shortages.

By using cameras and sensors, Sengistix also provides those living in Valiant Living's homes more independence. The monthly cost is $2,000.

"My budget request does not cover that totally," Uthe stated.

DakotAbilities seeks funding

Lake County Auditor Paula Barrick reported that a new organization submitted a budget request for 2022. DakotAbilities requested $60 per month for each of the three individuals in Lake County who receive services, for a total of $2,160.

In a letter, Executive Director Nathan Stallinga indicated that more than 20 counties currently provide financial support to DakotAbilities, contributing an amount comparable to that assessed for individuals served at a state institution. He indicated these payments are allowed by the state.

DakotAbilities, according to the organization's website, was founded in 1965 as United Cerebral Palsy and has gone through several name changes. Stallinga said, "Most of the people we serve have a primary diagnosis of cerebral palsy."

Barrick indicated the budget request for the Human Services Center for 2022 is $9,000. In 2020, the county spent $5,732; in 2021, $8,600 was budgeted for that line item.