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Commission hears about HRDC's COVID woes


Last updated 9/25/2020 at 11:55am

At its weekly business meeting Thursday, the Hill County Commission was presented with District 4 Human Resources Development Council’s work plan and assessment, which has been updated to account for COVID-19 and funds received from the CARES Act.

HRDC Executive Director Carilla French presented the major observations made by the assessment and explained to the commissioners how COVID-19 has affected their operations.

She said, after the shutdown back in March when the pandemic first arrived in Montana, HRDC began to work with a bare-bones in-office staff and tried to do as much as they could remotely.

However, French said, they found that their phone system, which she called outdated, was causing major problems not just for employees, but for the people looking for their services.

She said during that time HRDC received just 6,800 calls through their switchboard as compared to the 15,000 they would have seen in that same span of time in previous years.

French said this was because their phone systems went down, and people weren’t able to get ahold of the people at HRDC that they needed.

She said trouble with the phone system also affected partners who often rent space from them including a private counselor, and the provider of many of their mental health services for their HeadStart program.

She also said employees ran into persistent technical issues due to similarly outdates servers and software.

Beyond that, French said, working from home became even more troublesome as client files, by law, cannot be taken home in order to ensure the safety of their personal information.

She said an inspection also recently found that the HRDC building was using 100 percent recycled air, which is a health hazard to employees.

French said HRDC will continue to collaborate with state and local partners and advocate for the population it serves, especially low-income residents, but in order to do that updates will need to be made.

“What we really need to better serve our community and customers is to upgrade our outdated phone system, computer services and software, and our building infrastructure,” she said.

She said HRDC needs to make sure it’s keeping people including its employees safe and healthy.

French said the CARES Act has allocated $74,000 to their organization that needs to be spent by Sept. 30, 2022.

However, she said, upgrading the phone system, which is their current priority, will likely take up the entire allocation.

She said whatever is left will be used to address the other concerns the assessment mentions.

French said the Hill County Commissioners need to sign the work plan before it can go to the state and later to the federal government for approval.

She said the Liberty County Commission has already signed off, as has the organization’s board of directors and she has a meeting with the Blaine County Commission to request their signatures today.

French said the work plan needs to be signed by the end of the month and the commissioners, along with Hill County Attorney Karen Alley, said they would read through the document and hold a meeting this coming Tuesday to sign the document.

During the meeting, the commission also discussed the Hill County Health Department hiring an immunization nurse, a job, which Alley said will be sent to human resources and advertised soon.

Hill County Public Health Director Kim Larson, who attend the meeting virtually, said she was originally contemplating having someone already employed fill the role but that has since become unfeasible.

The commissioners also announced that Hill County Extension Agent Tom Allen will be leaving his position Dec 31.

At the meeting, the commission also unanimously approved the county’s official agreement with MSU Extension.

The commissioners also discussed a bid package for the Hill County Detention Center control panel remodeling project.

Hill County Commissioner Mark Peterson said he recently took a tour of the Cascade County Jail and the system they use, which he said will be similar to the one Hill County is looking to create.

He proposed a that the commission hold a meeting with Hill County Building Manager Daryl Anez to discuss updates to the bid package, which Hill County Commissioner Diane McLean said should be broad enough to meet the county’s need.

McLean said she doesn’t want to delay the project unnecessarily, but the commission apparently has more time to work on this project than she had originally thought.

Hill County Commissioner Mike Wendland said they recently received the bid package used by Cascade County and that can be used as a model in reviewing their own bid package.

The commission also unanimously canceled the county’s Stage 1 Fire Restriction effective this morning at 12:01 a.m.

Wendland said this decision was made because of the recent cool weather and rains the area has seen.

He said he spoke with a number of local fire chiefs, some of whom supported lifting the restrictions, while others didn’t.

He said Beaver Creek Park Superintendent Chad Edgar said he was fine with lifting fire restrictions.

Wendland said this lifting of restrictions would not exempt people from needing to obtain burning permits however.


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