CATASTROPHIC DECISION? County leaders mull NCHC changes

It was an important vote: The county’s Health and Human Service Committee Aug. 8 recommended that the county pull out of its existing contract with North Central Health Care and pursue contracting for individual services.

What exactly that means for NCHC and Lincoln and Langlade counties, which also contract with NCHC, is unknown. But NCHC Interim CEO Michael Loy says terminating the contract would be a “catastrophic decision for our community,” effectively killing NCHC.

The county in February voted to explore creating its own human services department after the health care organization came under fire for perceived failures to provide mental health and addiction services that the county is statutorily required to provide.

The final straw was a juvenile case that law enforcement used as an example of poor handling by NCHC. But a state review released last month showed NCHC acted appropriately in that case.

The proposed change in the county’s relationship with NCHC calls for the county to pursue an individual contract for each service now provided through NCHC. That  would start in 2018, if approved by the county board in September. Each service would be put through a request for proposals process, and NCHC would be given priority for the first three years. In 2021, NCHC would be treated like any other contractor bidding for jobs with a government agency.

The consequences for NCHC, and Lincoln and Langlade counties, remain murky. County Board Chair Kurt Gibbs says those two counties would be welcome to join in contracts with Marathon County. How that structure would work isn’t yet clear.

NCHC would still exist as long as the other two counties kept their part of the agreement, says Marathon County Corporation Counsel Scott Corbett. If another county pulls out, NCHC will cease to exist.

That would start a “draw down” process where the organization would have to start selling off assets, Corbett says.

A formal public hearing on the matter is set for Aug. 22.