South Country Health Alliance helps residents stay at home

by Jennie Zeitler, Staff Writer


South Country Health Alliance (SCHA) is a county-based purchasing coalition of counties which was formed to increase access to medical care for residents.

“Small rural providers were left out of large provider networks,” SCHA Chief Executive Officer Leota Lind told the Morrison County Board of Commissioners. “SCHA increases access to care and allows for early intervention when issues are identified. We can do better, more effectively, hopefully with cost savings.”

Lind explained that the cost savings go back to help local communities.

Minnesota currently has three such county-based purchasing groups — Itasca Medical Care, started in 1997, SCHA, formed in 2001 and PrimeWest Health, started in 2003.

“This is about the total aspect of health,” Lind said. “SCHA helps counties do a better job coordinating medical services with other services being offered in local communities such as Social Services and Public Health Departments and non-profit community groups.”

County-based purchasing focuses on prevention, with an eye toward cost benefit rather than cost containment or cost shifting.

The 12 counties which form SCHA are Brown, Dodge, Freeborn, Goodhue, Kanabec, Morrison, Sibley, Steele, Todd, Wabasha, Wadena and Waseca.

SCHA is operated by a joint powers board comprised of county commissioners from each member county.

Twelve percent of the SCHA-covered population is in Morrison County.

Benefit programs used by residents include AbilityCare, SeniorCare Complete, Minnesota Senior Care Plus, MinnesotaCare and Medical Assistance.

One of the biggest issues for Morrison County residents is obtaining dental care in the vicinity.

“Dental access is a huge issue for the medical assistance population,” Lind said. “People have to get their care outside Morrison County due to the lack of local providers.”

One of the main factors in lack of dental providers is a variable reimbursement rate.

“In 2010, the legislature cut back on adult dental coverage,” Lind said. Two of the closest providers are in Pillager and Deerwood.

One of the bright successes of Morrison County’s membership in SCHA is the fact that fewer county residents are in nursing homes.

“We are helping residents stay in their homes,” Lind said.

By utilizing other community services beyond health care, older residents obtain the support they need to remain in their homes as long as possible.

“That number is a huge cost savings,” said Commissioner Don Meyer, SCHA joint powers board member.

Ranae Moore is SCHA’s community connector, working as an advocate and to coordinate care for residents who do not already have a coordinator.

“She is ‘boots on the ground’ for us in the county,” Linda said.

In 2012, SCHA was rated number one among Minnesota health plans in 16 different areas, including “getting needed care,” “getting care quickly” and “how well doctors communicate.”

It was rated number two in an additional eight categories.

“We appreciate everything you are doing,” Meyer said.

“It doesn’t cost the county anything annually to belong to SCHA,” said County Administrator Deb Gruber. “There was an initial equity investment when we joined in January 2007, and another capital investment in 2008, for a total of $2,363,704.”

“SCHA provides Morrison County with case management dollars for the local care coordinator and has also provided funding for some preventative programs through Public Health.  The per member, per month capitation rate is what the State or Federal government pays the health plan for enrollees of various programs,” she said.