Chesterton Tribune

Commissioners split to give community groups hospital money

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The first payout of Porter County’s hospital interest has officially been approved by the Board of Commissioners.

On Tuesday, the commissioners approved spending $270,000 to help three local non-profits that are seeing substantial shortfalls in their 2012 budgets due to state cuts.

Seeking funds are Opportunity Enterprises, Family and Youth Services Bureau of Porter County and the Porter County Aging and Community Services, which was given authorization by the county council in this fall’s tight budgeting process to use part of the hospital interest instead of the county’s general fund.

FYSB board member Ralph Ayres said he asked the commissioners last week to place the hospital money use on their agenda because he remembered that both Council and Commissioners needed to agree on the use.

Southern County Commissioner Carole Knoblock objected to handing over money without consulting county council members on whether this was the best way to distribute it.

“I think we should talk about it first,” she said to fellow commissioners John Evans, R-North, and Nancy Adams, R-Center.

From the floor, Council member Jim Polarek, R-4th, said the council had made the decision to tap into the interest account, which so far has accumulated approximately $10 million since the 2007 sale of Porter hospital, to help these groups because the council believed it met the criteria of making a positive impact on residents.

“It’s help for the senior citizens, it’s help for the handicapped and it’s help for the children. It benefits every part of the county,” said Polarek.

Money could not be given elsewhere, he said, because funding is needed to cover the county’s staggering health insurance costs and Enhanced 911.

As the commissioners deliberated holding off until the measures could be talked over with the council, PCACS Executive Director Bruce Linder said if the credit did not come by the end of January, his board would then decide to lay off staff to drive buses that carry the elderly and disabled.

PCACS had been appropriated an additional $120,000 to make up for lost revenue that would have come from United Way of Porter County, the Northwest Indiana Regional Bus Authority and the Public Mass Transit Fund.

“If you don’t pay the gas, don’t pay the drivers, you can’t operate the buses,” Linder said.

Evans and Adams both agreed to the measure despite feeling it would be better to formally discuss it with the council which did not forward the matter to the commissioners. Questioning the legality, Knoblock voted against the action.

The commissioners voted the same way for the other two groups. Family and Youth Services Bureau will receive an additional $100,000 and Opportunity Enterprises will get $50,000.

Ayres said FYSB saw a $300,000 slash in its budget for next year when the state decided not to support services such as case management.

County attorney Gwenn Rinkenberger said for future transactions, the council and commissioners should decide on a proper protocol for how interest money is dispersed.

Commissioners Seek Lower Health Care Costs

A recent rise in health insurance costs has the commissioners asking what direction to take to avoid escalating costs in the future.

Anton Insurance representatives Mike Anton and Leigh Westergren presented to the commissioners the 2011 Annual Claims Report. A total of paid claims for 593 county employees amounted to $6,168,698 from April 1 to Nov. 30. The monthly average for each employee was $1,187.

The county’s greatest claim expenditures came from inpatient and outpatient hospital benefit categories, making up a total of more than 50 percent.

The county’s employee health care plan proposes changes for the next year that could generate an estimated savings of up to $200,000, according to figures given by Stewart C. Miller & Company, the county’s third-party insurance provider.

A representative from Trendline Health, Ed Trupp, whose company works with public and private entities around the nation to mange costs, proposed the idea of starting a three-year trust with a fixed monthly payment. Whatever money paid in that isn’t used will be available when the trust expires and its interest can be used for future expenses.

Evans said the board would take the matter under advisement and wants to look at the benefits of having the county create its own trust.

In a related matter, praise was given to HealtheAccess clinics which have helped cut costs by providing significant savings and expertise for county workers at their location.

Nearly 20 percent of employees have utilized the clinic and clinic staff has helped identify early risk factors for breast cancer, diabetes and hyperthyroidism.

“The best cure is prevention and the thing we want to do is work with those risk factors,” said founder Don Kieger.

The clinic’s new CEO Bill Cummins said forging partnerships with healthcare providers brings cost savings to their clients.

“It really is the way of the future for healthcare,” said Cummins, who previously worked as chief operating officer for Porter Health System.

In other business:

• The commissioners have appointed Meredith Reggie as their representative to the five-member animal control board which will be overseen by the county sheriff.

• A new security video surveillance system for the county administration building is in the works. IT Director Sharon Lippens will discuss the costs of installing the equipment with vendor Videotec. Cameras will be placed in entrances in buildings on each of the floors and hallways.

• After announcing the creation of a county economic development cabinet with the cities of Valparaiso and Portage on Monday, the commissioners will divide the $75,000 funding for the initiative among the northern, center and southern sections of the county.



Posted 12/21/2011