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THE CITY REBORN FROM THE ASHES OF AMERICA'S MOST DISASTROUS FOREST FIRE
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Robin Elsner To Retire After 12 Years As DHHS Director

Issue Date: December 17, 2020

In mid-January Robin Elsner will retire from his long-time position as head of the Marinette County Department of Health and Human Services. Elsner made that announcement at the start of his annual report to Marinette County Board on Tuesday, Dec. 15, with the comment that this would be his final report to them.

Elsner started with the department 29 years ago as a mental health therapist, and progressed through the ranks until 2008, when he was appointed to head the department by Steve Corbeille, who was Marinette County Administrator at the time.

"I want to thank the County Board for having the privilege of working for you for 29 years," Elsner declared.

While the report Elsner presented was on department activities and achievements for 2019, he described 2020 as "a bizarre year," due to Covid-19 and displayed relief near the start of his report, "I'm so glad that we now have vaccinations."

Elsner said Marinette County Health and Human Services provides a lot of programs that are somewhat rare for small counties, and offers services and treatment programs much like those in Brown County and other more heavily populated areas.

He cited the year's accomplishments as "a credit to our staff and the people who work for Marinette County."

Recruitment of foster homes is one of the on-going challenges they continue to face, Elsner said. Continuing and improvement of that recruitment is among goals set for 2020 and will continue through 2021 and beyond.

Elsner commended Public Health Nurse Mollie Bonjean and the other Public health nurses for having done a great job of dealing with the coronavirus pandemic. He said they had put in countless hours tracking and contacting people who had been exposed to advise they were being put on quarantine, and added, "people are not always happy with us" when they get that information.

The Public Health Department is now gearing up to distribute the coronavirus vaccines, and he expects the front line workers to be vaccinated first. They are hiring some limited term employee nurses to help with the vaccinations.

Another big change is the move of the Economic Support unit from the NWTC campus to the newly remodeled County Resource Center attached to the courthouse. He presented charts showing levels of energy assistance provided to Marinette County residents, which peaked during the propane shortage in 2016.

Fraud investigators have achieved a good record of recovering dollars paid in error or through fraud, Elsner said.

Treatment of clients needing help from ADAPT was complicated by the Covid restrictions. Counselors now have ability to do "Zoom" sessions with clients, but acknowledged that "not every client likes that." He expects in future they will offer both in-person and technology-assisted sessions.

The Mental Health Court is up and running, with eight clients currently being served.

Long-time ADRC Supervisor Pam Daye retired in mid-2020, and that position is now filled by Kelly Badker, Elsner said. He noted that during the pandemic distancing restrictions, the ADRC staff have been alternating duty, with half working from home and the other half at the office on alternating weeks.

Among other services, Adult Protective Services staff with ADRC do investigations of elderly abuse and neglect reports.

Elsner was particularly proud to report that the wait list for services to the elderly no longer exists, and people needing help can get it almost immediately. At one time there was a wait of 15 years for needed services.

There are 13 social workers in the child and family unit, and 75 children in foster care. The Share Academy is filled, with six juveniles there, but there are no Marinette County juveniles in state operated juvenile correctional facilities, including Lincoln Hills for boys and Copper Lake for girls.

Supervisor Ted Sauve asked Elsner if DHHS works with NewCap on energy and housing assistance, and Elsner said they do, to be sure services are not duplicated.

Supervisor Ken Keller asked about rumors that Lincoln Hills was to be closed. Elsner said that had been planned, with correctional care moved to smaller facilities scattered around the state, but that change was placed on hold due to the pandemic.

Supervisor Tricia Grebin asked if DHHS gets parental approval before vaccinating children, and Elsner said that is required, and parents must sign off before children can be given a vaccine.

Supervisor Gail Wanek questioned reasons for the high turnover in the Child and Family Manager position. Elsner acknowledged there had been four changes in that management position since he became director, but pointed out there is extremely small turnover in social workers, which he termed "a tribute to them." Elsner said whenever the manager post is vacant he and Glenn Sartorelli step in to do the work.

"We've been fortunate to not have an increase in suicides," Elsner replied when Supervisor Bonnie Popp asked if he had any information on the impact of Covid-19 on mental health of Marinette County residents. He said the crisis staff continues to be effective, and added there definitely has been an increase in crisis contacts.

At the conclusion of Elsner's report County Board Chair John Guarisco thanked him for his 29 years of service to the county and extended congratulations and good wishes for his upcoming retirement.


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