A new statewide disability assessment program will likely require Washington County to add up to 10 new positions in 2014 and beyond.

Though "MnCHOICES" was approved for state funding next year, the county is not certain whether it'll be covered by the state in the future, county officials say.

The program requires each county that helps individuals with any type of disability or other long-term care needs to use one long assessment process.

Washington County Community Services Director Dan Papin said the department plans to phase out hiring of new workers over the years by adding one or two positions at a time.

Calling it "yet another difficult conversation" with county officials, Papin said the state-mandated program may not streamline current processes all that much.

"I think we have a holistic system," he said of the current eligibility assessment process. "I don't think at the end of the day an elderly person or a disabled person is going to benefit."

The new system requires counties to conduct six- to eight-hour assessments for everyone applying for developmental disability screening, alternative care, long-term care, personal care assistance, private duty nursing, or waiver programs, as opposed to just one that county workers believe is the best fit.

"Which is considerably longer than what we currently have," said social worker Kathy Michelson, noting that county staff conduct two- to three-hour assessments for just the services requested.

However, staff said residents sometimes get bounced around for various services, so the new assessment tool may streamline things a bit.

"There may be some savings for some particular people but there is going to be more work for a lot of people," County Administrator Molly O'Rourke said.

The county plans to shuffle existing staff and add certified assessors to the department to meet the demands. The Washington County Board of Commissioners has not taken an official vote on the matter.

MnCHOICES will cost the county approximately $1.3 million annually for employee salaries, benefits and other expenses, according to a staff report.

Papin said MnCHOICES will not immediately impact the budget or the tax levy, however, it will still affect staff time on those eligibility assessments.

Board Chairwoman Lisa Weik said for so long the county has asked the state for administrative simplification, but continues to see otherwise.

"This is very disappointing," she said. "This is not giving counties choices."

Dist. 1 Commissioner Fran Miron concurred, and said the bureaucracy needs to stop.

"This has got to be on the radar screen as far as legislative priorities in the coming years," he said.