Milwaukee County Executive David Crowley announced a proposal on on September 28 of a full integration of the Milwaukee County Department on Aging, Department of Veterans Services, and Department on Health and Human Services in the upcoming 2021 budget.

The 2021 budget was created through the beginning stages of a racial equity focused strategic plan – the first strategic plan to be developed in Milwaukee County government in over 20 years. The integration proposal would take advantage of the benefits of integration to enhance Milwaukee County’s assistance delivery model so services and processes could be centered around the convenience and needs of individuals.

“Milwaukee County remains one of the few jurisdictions in the nation that has not shifted to a model that services differently abled residents and older adults seamlessly, across the lifespan. Full integration puts into action the strategic focus area of ‘Bridging the Gap’ in our strategic plan to achieve racial equity by aligning Milwaukee County to best practices of other human service operations throughout the rest of the state and the nation,” said County Executive Crowley. “With the departments coming together, we can expand and invest in critical services, sharing resources, knowledge and cross-training. The changes, along with other realignment, will allow the Department on Aging to mitigate any reduction in services.”

As a result of integration, Milwaukee County residents could experience quicker turnaround in connection to services, which would result in better outcomes and no adverse impacts on services or response time. In addition to the high-quality services residents have come to expect, the integration plan would give older residents and veterans more direct access to an expanded array of services such as eviction prevention, mental health resources, and energy assistance.

“One of the most important focus areas of our strategic plan to achieve racial equity is ‘Investing in Equity’ because it exists to ensure that we’re investing the limited resources we do have on those most in need of care: the most vulnerable and historically underserved populations in our county,” said County Executive Crowley. “Investing in equity is difficult thanks to a growing structural deficit created by state-imposed funding limits and the growing cost of state-mandated services, but the proposed integration takes a creative approach to reorienting the scarce resources we do have to improve customer service experiences and elevate care for veterans and older adults across the lifespan.“

Integration would allow for greater investment in equity with key investments made in frontline staff and direct services for aging Milwaukee County residents. The focus of services for the Department on Aging was on the creation of three new direct service positions: An Elder Benefits Specialist and two Human Service Workers. The Elder Benefits Specialist, the first of its kind in the department’s history, would provide Milwaukee County with a central “go-to” staffer who can help older adults and their families understand Medicare services and Medicare savings programs. Other services include the expansion in funding for key services such as transportation, family caregiver support, and neighborhood outreach.

“Older residents and veterans have unique needs that deserve proper attention, and Milwaukee County plans no reduction in the services that address those needs, but our older residents and veterans also need assistance with housing, food, transportation, energy assistance just like every other resident – especially in the middle of a public health crisis. This is a key part of the puzzle to achieving racial equity, increasing access to services that focusing on the upstream needs of our residents to prevent them from running into trouble later,” added County Executive Crowley. “The creation of these new direct service positions elevates the needs of older adults in Milwaukee County —and integration provides the opportunity to take care of all the needs of the individual, including needs specific to older adults.”

In addition to the creation of three frontline workers for the Department on Aging, the 2021 budget would continue to fund additional weekend meal options for seniors. The department also explored the use of additional nutritional counseling and education to improve older adult health and wellbeing. Social programming at the five county-owned seniors centers will continue five days per week as it has in the past. However, the department expects to provide virtual programming at a minimum throughout the first quarter of 2021 due to the impacts of COVID-19.

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