Editor's note: This is the fourth in a series of guest columns submitted by the Hernando County Community Relations Department in observance of National County Government Week.
Created in 1999, the Hernando County Health and Human Services Department remains a small department of five dedicated individuals who are responsible for coordination, evaluation, monitoring and oversight of all state-mandated programs, human service contracts, projects and grants, in addition to the oversight of the Veterans Services department.
The goal of the department is to provide interim assistance to Hernando County residents and to promote social and economic self-sufficiency. Working to meet this goal controls the escalating expense from a growing number of related state-mandated programs, while assisting to resolve requests for human service needs.
State-mandated programs related to health and human services require all 67 counties in Florida to provide services to those residents who are indigent, uninsured or of low-income, without compensation or financial support from the state. Currently, there are six such programs that range from the disposition of dead bodies to contributions to Medicaid, a federal/state cost-sharing program, to the predisposition costs of juveniles. Each state mandate has varying restrictions, eligibility guidelines, and in some cases financial responsibilities and limitations.
As one of the guardians and protectors of taxpayer funds, the Health and Human Services department is the gatekeeper that screens state billings and applications for assistance to determine appropriate eligibility and/or determination of expenditures. In order for the Health and Human Services department to achieve its mission to limit state-mandated expenses, staff must be experienced and educated in the intricacies of each state-mandated program. They also must be familiar with available resources that may be used in place of taxpayer dollars so the county becomes the payer of last resort, not the first.
During fiscal year 2006-07, the Health and Human Services Department received a total of $3,148,057 in state-mandated billings and related applications for assistance. Through extensive screening of each invoice, combined with advocacy and networking solutions with local agencies and organizations, the department was able to refute and/or attain appropriate alternate resources that resulted in a total savings of $1,524,545 to Hernando County taxpayers. The process required for each state-mandated program involves financial determination, analysis of the related statutes to determine eligibility, review of the billing formula, and extensive examination of available resources and services. The result is helping people in need to access the appropriate resources and to provide proactive assistance that will help to minimize the county liability from increased state-mandated programs and services.
Jean Rags is director of the Hernando County Health and Human Services department. Guest columnists write their own views on subjects they choose, and do not necessarily reflect the opinion of this newspaper.