County balks at filling LCHD specialist spot

LCHD says some families will be unserved if the spot isn't filled


LEE COUNTY – Replacing a family social worker at the Lee County Health Department rekindled a little animosity that exists between the group and Lee County Supervisors.
LCHD Administrator Michele Ross asked the board to replace a vacant full-time family support specialist for which a salary is already included in the current budget.
While supervisors Matt Pflug and Ron Fedler were supportive of the move, supervisors Tom Schulz, Garry Seyb, and Chuck Holmes were apprehensive about filling the vacant position.
Ross said the Board of Health has recommended the position be filled, but she was questioned by Holmes, Seyb, and Schulz about the need. Ross said she has seven support specialists on staff and they all have full case loads.
“This would be seven,” Ross said.
Holmes said he has heard that all of the cases the former specialist was working had been reassigned to another staffer.
Schulz asked Ross if it was not possible for the others to continue to handle the cases without replacing the seventh specialist.
“We would serve less families,” Ross said. “The other family support workers that took on those cases would not be able to continue to do that so we would be serving less families.”
Schulz asked then if the department had excess capabilities in the past because the other staff were able to absorb the former employee’s workload. He asked Ross if she had any data to support the contention that the additional employee is necessary.
Ross said she didn’t have the data on the number of openings in the current staff, but she said not filling the position could also jeopardize potential supplemental funding.
“We use state Hope Grant (Healthy Opportunities for Parents to Experience
Success) funding and ECI (Early Childhood Iowa) funding to support this position,” she said.
Holmes said he was having a hard time seeing how they would serve less families when they have absorbed them already.
“Because the openings they had are no longer available, so now we’ll serve less families. Those other workers had time in their caseloads when they absorbed the other work. Now those vacancies are filled so we won’t be able to serve other families,” she said.
Ross said the case load is based on what level of service the families need. She said when someone has an opening, they move from level one to level two which is less time consuming. Level three service is a monthly visit.
Pflug asked why the discussion was continuing because the position received grant funding and was already in an approved budget for the year.
“Why are we doing this? It’s in her budget…” Pflug said.
Schulz said the county has to start looking at positions to save.
“Because at some point we have to find $1.5 million to remove from our budget,” Schulz said.
Seyb said the explanation caused him to move a little in his position but he was surprised that there were six full time specialists on staff.
Ross told the board she was “shocked” that she was having to explain why she needed to justify the replacement.  She said the position is funded 75% with Hope grant funding, which is money from the Federal Transit Administration and 25% with ECI funding.
At that point, Pflug called for the vote and Schulz called for a roll call vote which requires each supervisor to vote individually rather than aye and nay. Schulz and Seyb both abstained because they said they didn’t have enough information to make an informed vote. Holmes voted no, and Fedler voted yes.
Pflug, seeing there weren’t votes to carry his motion to approve filling the position, and at the urging of Schulz, amended his motion to a motion to table until a follow-up meeting, where Ross could present more data. That motion carried 5-0.
“We’ll look at this again next week,” Seyb said. “Let’s just look at our data and where we’re at there. This goes back to our budgetary issues were facing and going forward I want to make sure we’re making the best decision long-term."
Ross asked if the board had made the same request for data from other department heads filling vacancies.
“The board can do that on any of those. This is the first time I can remember doing that, but I see it being more commonplace going forward just because of the position we’re in,” Seyb said.
Schulz said he didn’t want the request to die at the meeting because he wanted to give the department a chance to explain the position and need better.
Seyb said this is something that’s important for all department heads to pay attention to.
“We need to make sure we are crossing our ‘T's and dotting our ‘I’s.
The department came under fire in 2023 for operating the Lee County Hospice program in the red and supervisors started digging into the LCHD budget.
Ross said the staff streamlined their budget for the upcoming year.
"We worked very hard on our program revenues and expenses in this fiscal year we are turning it around. And we decreased our budget for 2025. We worked hard on that, so it's kind of shocking that I can't do a replacement hire. But I will bring the data," she said.

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