Teaming up for Change

Ever have a great idea and wonder what it would take to make it happen? In almost every situation I can think of it takes team work. Solving government’s thorny problems is no exception.

Last week, the La Crosse Area Development Corporation (LADCO) took a few hours to honor those who teamed up to make Western Wisconsin a better place. Business leaders were honored for submitting a competitive business plan and achieving excellence in business. But one award focused on building a team across organizations, government and business.

Called “Triangle of Achievement”, the award honored those who, in the words of the LADCO Executive Director James Hill, “collaborated to resolve issues central to the area’s economic development.”

Kudos to Mr. Hill and his team for thinking about a problem facing government that - if not solved - would result in higher property taxes for the entire region; hence the effects on business and economic development.

The need for teamwork began with La Crosse County facing the difficult decision about keeping Lakeview Health Care Center open when payments were not covering costs. One option was to close the home to patients from surrounding counties - including Monroe and Trempealeau. But Lakeview, like many public homes, serves very frail, medically needy patients. Such patients often can’t get the type of care they need in other local homes. Facing few alternatives, families and counties are forced to bear the cost of placing their patient in a nursing home far away.

The solution lies in changing the way we think about a ‘county nursing home’. Usually run by just one county, officials considered the possibility of creating a multicounty home. Something that seemed simple and efficient soon was wrapped up in legal decisions and complicated federal regulations.

Mr. Hill said, “The simplicity and fundamentally sound thinking of the idea immediately resonated with area county leaders but the next obstacle involved the state, perhaps not yet used to such innovative, out-of-the-box thinking.”

That’s when Representative Jennifer Schilling and I joined the team of counties and public nursing home administrators.  Together we found a legislative solution that resolved the tangled red tape. In the last few days of the legislative session we worked hard to pass the bill.

The result of our teamwork is that under the new law, thirteen counties, many from Western Wisconsin, formed the Mississippi Valley Health Services collaborative. The counties share responsibility for the home and are able to keep local patients at a local facility, saving money for families and taxpayers.

Estimated savings are more than one million dollars per year for property taxpayers - perhaps one of the factors motivating Mr. Hill and his group to consider the project worthy of the Triangle of Achievement award.

As he presented the award to me, Rep. Schilling, County Board Chair Doyle and County Administrator O’Malley, Mr. Hill said, “The recipients of this year’s award demonstrate local government at its innovative best, a cooperative view taken by the state legislature and an outcome that is beneficial to those who are most vulnerable across Western and Central Wisconsin.”

It is amazing what can be accomplished when people team up to make change happen.