Budget woes delay NorthernBridges start

NorthernBridges is nearly ready to roll out Family Care services in Douglas County, but the state's budget woes are going to delay the startup for a couple months.

NorthernBridges is nearly ready to roll out Family Care services in Douglas County, but the state's budget woes are going to delay the startup for a couple months.

The Wisconsin Department of Health Services notified NorthernBridges of a two-month delay in the expansion of Family Care to the 11 counties of the northwest long-term care district due to the state budget deficit.

The March 1 target date to begin enrolling elderly and disabled adults into Family Care has been pushed back to May 1. Family Care is a long-term care program design to foster quality of life through independent living instead of living in nursing homes.

The state faces a projected $346.2 million deficit in the current fiscal year and a potential $5.4 billion deficit on June 30, 2011. Revenue collections are expected to continue to decline until fiscal year 2010-11, according to Department of Administration Secretary Michael Morgan.

Due to the sober financial situation, state officials are slowing down the process of Family Care expansion and taking a prudent approach to make the initiative sustainable.


The delay will allow the state some financial savings. It also will give more time for NorthernBridges, the managed care organization delivering Family Services in northwest Wisconsin, to prepare to open for business on May 1. NorthernBridges was created to provide Family Care services in Ashland, Barron, Bayfield, Burnett, Douglas, Iron, Polk, Price, Rusk, Sawyer, and Washburn counties.

Douglas County was on track to open its Aging and Disabilities Resource Center in the Government Center by the March 1 deadline.

Douglas County Supervisor Jack Sweeney, a member of the NorthernBridges board, said the organization was notified during a meeting last week of the delay.

"It wasn't anything NorthernBridges did," Sweeney said. "We were prepared to start the day that they signify." He said while the board was convinced the delay would only last two months, there are no guarantees.

"We're moving ahead and planning to open May 1," he said.

Douglas County Administrator Steve Koszarek said even if it's delayed a little longer the county should be OK because of the way the county budgeted for 2009. He said he's not sure what's happening with the people hired to deliver the service. In some cases he said, county employees already made the move from their jobs with the county to work for NorthernBridges.

"We're looking for a bridge loan for those two months," Sweeney said. He said the state indicated it can't leave the publicly owned managed care organization hanging.

"It's unfortunate that those waiting for Family Care services will have to wait another two months," said John T. McMahon, NorthernBridges CEO. "For NorthernBridges and providers that we contract with to serve our members, it will just mean adjustments to our planning schedules. We will continue to hire and train staff, and we'll use the extra time to fine tune our care management, financial, and IT systems."


The Family Care services were developed to give people better choices about the services and support available to meet their needs, improve access to those services, improve the quality of the long-term care system by focusing on people's health and social outcomes and create a cost-effective long-term care system for the future. In 2006, Gov. Jim Doyle announced plans during his State of the State speech to expand the Family Care program statewide over the next five years. It was created because the cost of long-term care is expected to rise, and the number of people age 85 or older -- those most likely to need long-term care -- is expected to rise 45 percent by 2030.

NorthernBridges last week announced it has selected Vestica Healthcare LLC of Mequon, Wis., to provide administrative and information technology services for claims processing, customer support and care management operational activities.

"NorthernBridges evaluated all system and administrative options as part of our operational decision-making process," McMahon said. "We insisted on a fully integrated system, with both care management and the business aspects of the system working jointly. This reduces errors and delays and drives a higher level of care for the members we serve. Vestica's platform also has fully integrated Web portals for member and provider servicing, another core requirement of NorthernBridges' evaluation process."

The state has made a significant investment to the expansion of Family Care in northwest Wisconsin and is, "absolutely committed and prepared to continue planning with NorthernBridges to begin Family Care enrollment starting May 1st," said Sinikka Santala, DHS long-term care administrator.

Maintaining the planning and implementation momentum created by NorthernBridges is extremely important to the state and to the NorthernBridges board of directors. Both parties agree it is imperative to keep planning on track with the goal of Family Care enrollment starting May 1.

More information on NorthernBridges and Family Care in northwest Wisconsin can be found at . The public is also welcome to board meetings held the first Monday of every month at the Ramada Inn in Hayward at 9 a.m.

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