Area healthcare collaboration highlighted in new report, expected to launch in January

Everything seems to be aligning in Southern Prairie Community Care’s effort to re-image the current healthcare delivery system in southwestern Minnesota.

Since 2006, representatives of 13 counties have been pursuing a county-based health initiative in southwest Minnesota. After Lac qui Parle County dropped out, the 12 counties of Chippewa, Cottonwood, Jackson, Kandiyohi, Lincoln, Lyon, Murray, Nobles, Redwood, Rock, Swift and Yellow Medicine, moved forward in collaboration with each other. Optimistically, the group expects to launch the project in the next six months.

“This is a very exciting movement,” said Mary Fischer, executive director of Southern Prairie Community Care. “It’s a grassroots effort, making sure our counties and communities are taking care of our most vulnerable people, which are the recipients of Medicaid and Minnesota Care.”

Fischer pointed out that the group is not creating a new service delivery system, but rather, it’s developed a care coordination network, one which aims to enhance the quality of life for citizens through facilitating the integration of services and support provided within the various communities.

“Basically, we’re connecting the dots of what already exists,” she said. “We’re making sure that it’s working together. It’s healthcare reform on the local level.”

On Friday, a response for proposal letter was sent to the Minnesota Department of Human Services in hopes of being awarded a healthcare delivery system demonstration program.

“We should know by the end of June if it is awarded,” Fischer said. “After contract negotiation, we’d begin our work with consumers by January 1. It’s a really fast timeline, but we’ll be ready for the challenge.”

In collaboration with the demonstration award, funding is expected to come from the Minnesota Department of Health and Minnesota Department of Human Services this fall.

“We think we are a very strong candidate,” Fischer said. “Many of the priorities for Southern Prairie are a very good match for that funding. So everything does seem to be aligning. But we’re taking it one step at a time.”

Fischer noted that most proposals have been health system-based in urban areas. Southern Prairie Community Care is the first rural model.

“They tell us they’re very interested, in this round, in a system that can be replicated in rural areas,” she said. “They’ve all been urban so far, with the exception of Hennepin Health. They’re a couple of years ahead of us. They’re urban but focused on the same population.”

The biggest difference between the two types of models is the all-encompassing aspect that Southern Prairie is focused on.

“Our model is not focusing just on medical care but the integration of everything that is provided to Medicaid and Minnesota Care recipients,” Fischer said. “It’s really focusing on the entire package for that recipient, like social services, transportation and housing, too. It’s so important that the recipient has one person to go through to help them navigate the system.”

The 12-county collaborative was one of five government innovations highlighted recently in a new report called “Big Ideas. Better Outcomes. Bending the Cost-Curve.” The report was created by “Beyond the Bottom Line,” a partnership of six foundations working to encourage innovation as a strategy to help state and local governments achieve better outcomes for the public in more financially sustainable ways.

Some of the highlighted cases in the report have been implemented successfully for three years, while others are just getting off the ground. In addition to Southern Prairie, Hennepin Health, Ramsey County Emergency Communications Center, Stearns County Domestic Violence Court and Crow Wing County Human Services were also included in the report.

“They are really focused on all kinds of reform in an effort to redesign Minnesota or at least environments in Minnesota,” Fischer said. “They try to highlight what’s new.”

Southern Prairie Community Care will also be showcased on PBS in July.

“The show is called ‘Redesigning Minnesota,'” Fischer said. “It’s on healthcare reform. It’s Ken Stone’s show and we’ll be one small part of it. They’ll also be talking to Hennepin Health.”

While it is exciting to be noticed for the collaborative effort, Fischer noted that it will be the consumers who receive the biggest benefit.

“I’m so proud to be involved with this,” she said.

Getting to the point where they’re at right now hasn’t been easy though, Fischer said. It’s taken a lot of dedication and representation.

“The county commissioners are really the drivers behind this,” Fischer said. “Under a joint powers agreement, our board of directors includes one county commissioner from each county.”

Since 2006, monthly meetings have taken place, followed by more in-depth discussions.

“Along with the county commissioners, center directors, human services directors, public health directors, clinic administrators and hospital folks have all been very involved,” Fischer said. “Since early last summer, there has also been a series of work groups that involved a lot of professions, from public health to mental health, who helped us design the model. It’s been really hard work, but it’s really energizing. We’re the best people to design this delivery system.”

Fischer credited people in southwest Minnesota, in general, for their ability to collaborate. That mentality, she said, has enhanced the 12-county effort.

“There have been several multi-county ventures,” she said. “That’s given us a head start because we all know each other, having worked together on different ventures throughout the years. So the trust and confidence you need for a project like this had already been established. It’s been a wonderful experience.”