The focus of the newly formed Minnesota Prairie County Alliance is organizing the operational components. "I've not set a specific timeline," said Executive Director Jane Wilcox-Hardwick. In May, Dodge, Steele and Waseca counties established a joint powers agreement that established a governance structure to support a human services agency among the three counties. The governance structure includes a joint powers board that will direct the work of the agencies. It is composed of two county commissioners from each board. The Minnesota Prairie County Alliance is a public entity that will drive the budget, set the human services agency direction and overall approach. The new human services model will help consolidate administrative activities that are currently duplicated across three agencies. The pooled resources will enable the group to purchase and use once-cost-prohibitive technologies that better analyze data, measure performance, manage electronic records and research emerging human services practices. In a phone interview last week, Wilcox-Hardwick said she wants to have a seamless and smooth transition for all of the clients the alliance serves. "We are working on brand recognition so they know what MNPrairie is," she said. "As a new organization, we are working through any organizational structure, any reporting relationship and getting them ironed out so they don't get in the way of what we are tasked to do for our communities." Technology is one of the main processes being organized. Each individual county - Steele, Waseca and Dodge - is upgrading all of its phones and computers over the next few weeks. Another priority involves the finance department, which includes organizing the system to receive funds and make payments. "We want to have the general ledger system up and running as we would expect it," Wilcox-Hardwick said. A third key operational area is human resources. The alliance is working over bargaining agreement in place represented by the union and human resources consolidation. "It is about getting operational foundation in place so people can work efficiently," she said. The major challenge is sheer volume of changes staff has to deal with including new technology, phone numbers and knowing how to use tools for the upcoming years, Wilcox-Hardwick said. "The time it takes to do that will slow down briefly our work until we regain skill sets around those." What MNPrairie will allow is more extensive training for staff in the social services area. "We are looking to define more clearly in three to six months some of our longer term goals for the organization," Wilcox-Hardwick said. "We are working with the joint powers board and staff to define those cohesively across the organization so all are moving in the same direction." MNPrairie is also receiving an almost $260,000 grant over a three-year period to fund trauma-informed care activities through the South Country Health Alliance. It will enable the staff to improve its response on providing trauma and additional support for families residing in Waseca County. Wilcox-Hardwick said this program will allow staff to learn how to ask questions in a more sensitive way and make referrals for new service providers. One growing trend that Wilcox-Hardwick is seeing is an increase in the number of people who are aging in the community requiring more support in the form of medical assistance, home care and access to other support. "The eligibility for that program is very specialized," Wilcox-Hardwick said. "We now have a team of experts working across three sites together to develop much better response to that growing demand in the upcoming years." MNPrairie will have about 140 staff members across the three counties with offices maintained in each at Mantorville, Owatonna and Waseca.