JEFFERSON — You know your county department is functioning well when, as its head, you deliver your annual report to the board of supervisors, listeners smile approvingly and no one questions you. Then, a well-known humanitarian on the panel rises to speak and compliments you, saying:
“What you and your department go through — I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t do it. I’d be too depressed. You may have the most difficult job in the county.”
That quote was provided to Jefferson County Human Services Department Director Kathi Cauley by Jefferson County Board Supervisor Dick Schultz of Fort Atkinson at this week’s meeting of the county board.
Schultz, a Vietnam veteran, has built his adult life on showing compassion to people who need homes and spent more than a quarter of a century taking in dozens of young men from foreign countries who have needed a place to live as they pursue their educations in the US — Fort Atkinson in particular. Schultz lamented the fact that some of his “sons” from other countries had personal demons and have since died, so he has personal experience with what human services department workers go through as they deal with people who suffer from mental illness and other uphill battles.
With the COVID-19 pandemic, Cauley and her staff have had about as challenging a year as one could imagine and she acknowledged this in her annual report Tuesday night. She also said her staff has been amazingly resilient and has remained positive, performing effectively.
Human services departments in Wisconsin are among the last stops in society for people with myriad challenges — everything from the nightmares of drug and alcohol addictions, to mental illness and aging. Cauley said she and her staff have seen these battles exacerbated exponentially by the pandemic.
“As you well know, 2020 brought us all a global pandemic,” she said. “We learned new skills, transformed every service we provide, and practiced a new vocabulary that included words such as ‘unprecedented,’ and phrases such as, ‘you are frozen’ and ‘we can’t hear you.’ The COVID-19 pandemic affected our department and the people we serve in a myriad of ways.”
Cauley said she and her staff transformed mental health and substance use services to a “telehealth platform,” rooted in social distancing — something foreign to what has normally been a hands-on business.
“Nutrition and meals sites had to be closed resulting in frozen and fresh meals having to be delivered,” she said. “Supervised visits had to occur, at least for a time, either outside, with people in personal protective equipment, or in a virtual manner.”
She noted that vehicles and transportation services had to be adapted to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.
A bright side to Cauley’s report also came in that she was able to say that human services had a positive fund balance of $4,180,820 at the end of 2020. The year-end fund balance of $1,964,685 was $3,582,339 more than what was budgeted for the year.
“At every turn, new policy and practices had to be developed and implemented,” Cauley said. “I am very gratified to be able to report that we met these challenges with resiliency and responsiveness. All services were maintained and some even increased over the year. We are very fortunate to have great assistance from all of our county departments and leadership.”