THANKS, Marathon County: NCHC legal fees SKYROCKET

Officials at North Central Health Care are mulling hiring their own in-house attorney to save on future legal fees, after legal costs in 2016 more than tripled budgeted figures.

NCHC in 2016 budgeted $70,000 for legal fees paid to outside attorneys, says NCHC Interim CEO Michael Loy. Actual legal costs for the year are estimated between $240,000-$300,000, Loy says. A final total has not yet been calculated. Many of those fees stemmed from the dust-up with Marathon County that left NCHC’s future in flux for months.

The county in February 2016 voted to explore ending its longstanding agreement with NCHC to provide mental health, addiction and nursing home services for the county. The result of the contentious (and expensive) debate: In December the county agreed to a new contract with NCHC and created a committee for an additional layer of oversight.

While last year was an anomaly, Loy says, NCHC has gone over budget in the past for legal expenses, forcing officials to pull from other funding sources to cover the difference. And with an organization the size of NCHC, it makes sense to have a staff attorney, says Langlade County Corporation Counsel Robin Stowe, who also serves on NCHC’s executive committee. The organization would likely save money by doing so.

Loy plans to make the proposal to NCHC’s finance committee and full board the next time those bodies meet.