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Changes on horizon for WCI

County considers another agency to run program

By Robert Cloud

Waupaca County may relinquish control of its work training facility in Manawa.

Opened in 1989, Waupaca County Industries currently serves about 80 adults with disabilities. The facility provides prevocational training and employment opportunities for its clients.

Revisions in how the state provides long-term care for adults with disabilities has made it increasingly difficult for the county to continue the program.

“The landscape has changed dramatically,” according to Chuck Price, director of Waupaca County’s Department of Health and Human Services.

Price said the county used to employ staff who were responsible for managing the long-term care of WCI’s clients.

“If they weren’t living with family, they were probably living in county group homes,” Price said.

Over time, state funding was no longer sufficient for the counties to cover the costs for providing long-term care.

The state began encouraging counties to transition to private, nonprofit Managed Care Organizations to provide case management and services.

In 2010, Community Care Inc. took over management of long-term care in Waupaca County.

“Our adult long-term care unit doesn’t exist anymore,” Price said. “All the clients transitioned to managed care.”

Price said the shift meant that WCI became a service provider to the MCOs.

“We have no care-taking responsibilities to the clients,” Price said. “We provide job training and vocational skills so they can be employed in the community.”

WCI charges a rate for its services. Those rates provide revenues to help cover the costs of the program.

In addition to two MCOs, Community Care and Lakeland Care, WCI has also contracted with the Wisconsin Division of Vocational Rehabilitation and area businesses.

Price said the state DVR is no longer referring its clients to WCI due to a federal push away from sheltered workshops and into the community.

At one time, WCI was a “sheltered workshop” because many of its clients spent their adult lives working there. That is no longer the case for WCI clients.

Among WCI’s business contracts are Sturm Foods in Manawa and Creative Converting in Clintonville.

Price said WCI’s mission is to provide training and work for its disabled clients, but it must also meet the production needs of its business partners.

“We’ve hit a dead end,” Price said, noting WCI production lines that rely solely on clients do not run fast enough to meet the company’s needs.

As a result, WCI has been hiring more temp workers to help run the lines.

“We’re paying just over $9 per hour for the temps,” Price said. “They can get $2 to $3 more per hour to do the same thing someplace else. To be competitive, we would have to raise the hourly rate for the temp staff.”

To cover higher wages for temp staff would lead to higher rates, which in turn prices WCI out of contracts with MCOs and industry.

In 2014, Price noted that while WCI had one of its most productive years, it was still losing money. Increasing production required increasing temp staff.

“The business model worked nine years ago, but it no longer works since the shift to managed care,” Price said.

To cut costs, the county has reduced staff and delayed upgrades to the facility.

For several years, the county has considered three options.

It can “continue the status quo even though we would be going into the red. Anything in the red comes out of the tax levy,” Price said.

The county can sell the operations or the building.

Or it can shut down WCI all together.

Price said nobody has looked at the third option seriously.

In the last two months, Price said a fourth option has emerged: working with one of the MCOs to transition the facility and its operations to another agency.

“The MCOs could do an RFP (request for proposals) for services at the WCI facility,” Price said. “The county would not apply and allow another agency to do the work.”

Price said the county has been meeting with area MCOs, which have shown some interest in the proposal to possibly take over the WCI program.

At this time, however, the county is still exploring options.

“It’s been a hard few years just talking about this,” Price said about WCI’s financial problems. “Knowing we have some options that could continue providing the service and possibly expanding, it gives me a little bit more peace of mind.”

The proposal will be discussed at the next meeting of the county’s DHHS Board at 5 p.m. Wednesday, May 10.

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