Health care: 12 counties, 1 common goal

MARSHALL – Starting in January, counties in southwest Minnesota that are part of a group that make up Southern Prairie Community Care will begin taking part in a three-year pilot project that has been created to provide more inexpensive health care than the state-run Medicaid-managed care system.

Southern Prairie Community Care – a collaboration of 12 southwest Minnesota counties including Lincoln, Lyon, Murray, Redwood and Yellow Medicine – was chosen for the first-of-its kind project by the Minnesota Department of Human Services.

“We’re very excited about the opportunity to bring the medical side of services together with community-based services and public sector services provided for people in Medicaid and Minnesota Care,” Mary Fischer, the executive director of Southern Prairie Community Care, said. “We want to help bridge any potential gap in services when a patient is at transition points in their care.”

SPCC is funded by contributions from member counties.

“There are a lot of excellent outcomes that could be born from this,” Lyon County Southwest Health and Human Services Director Chris Sorenson said. “I think being a new demonstration project, we have the opportunity to really innovate things, particularly for rural Minnesota, where we focus on these local partnerships and work off a shared-service model.”

The plan under the pilot project is wide-reaching with a goal of developing a rural model of care that will increase quality and lower cost. It involves a number of groups, including hospitals, mental health care providers and social workers. These groups will be working in partnership to provide better services to those receiving Medical Assistance, Medicaid and those with disabilities.

According to Southern Prairie’s website, the pilot project is designed to meet the special needs shared by the rural communities in the 12-county area, such as poverty, obesity, diabetes and physical inactivity – and improve the “health and wellness of our residents.”

The intention is to improve that quality of life by “facilitating the integration of services and supports provided throughout our community,” the site says.

Lyon County Administrator Loren Stomberg said the project is similar to one he worked closely in the 1990s – PrimeWest Health – while he was deputy auditor in Renville County.

“From what I understand, it helps to get a handle on health care costs for the programs that we have here through Health and Human Services,” Sorenson said. “I suspect we could be able to control some costs, which is always good for taxpayers. By covering such a large area, that’s going to encompass a lot of health care providers and could potentially mean quite a few jobs here in town. That’s a part I’m excited about, too.”

Southern Prairie Community Care has been working for years with insurance providers such as UCare and BluePlus to develop an alternative to the Medicaid program.

“We certainly have partners in Blue Cross and UCare, but we also look forward to having this model as a way to advance health care and give folks access to it,” Sorenson said. “The innovativeness that comes from understanding the date that comes from it will help folks in terms of what communities need. This has the potential to be a wonderful product in system innovation for us.”

Fischer said the trial project does not include Medicare recipients, but she hopes to “incorporate the elderly into the service model at some point.” She said all the counties that make up the SPCC are putting forth a sincere, grassroots effort to take care of its residents and is glad the SPCC has become a driver behind the project.