DSS board backs move to electronic documentation

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, December 1, 2009

System can boost efficiency, reduce operating costsBy Kathy Chaffin
The Rowan Board of Social Services voted 3-0 Tuesday night to include an electronic document system in its 2009-2010 budget request to county commissioners.
Board member Jim Sides asked Social Services Director Sandra Wilkes to contact absent board members Lillian Morgan, who was at a workshop, and John Blair, who was sick, to see if they support the request. “It would be good if we had full consensus on this,” he said.
Sides voiced strong support for the system ó which would eliminate the current paper-based, manual documentation ó as did Chairman Nilous Avery and Vice Chairman and county commissioners Chairman Carl Ford.
“This is something we’ve needed for the longest time,” Sides said, “and the money has not been there.” Ford said the system would pay off in the long run, and Avery said it would boost employees’ morale and cut down on stress and burnout.
Michael Drabek, business development manager for Northwoods Consulting Partners, made a presentation on the system and how it has benefited social services departments that have implemented it.
Sides asked if the system had resulted in fewer positions being required to meet the growing demand for public assistance programs.
Drabek said Eddie Wooten, director of the Yadkin County Department of Social Services ó the first in the state to implement the Northwoods system ó told county commissioners if they didn’t approve its implementation, he would need two new positions to meet the demands of the paper-based system. They approved it, he said, and Wooten didn’t have to hire the extra positions.
Sides said those kind of labor-saving statistics would help sell the system to county commissioners.
Based in Columbus, Ohio, Northwoods has implemented the system in 47 social services departments in Ohio, eight in North Carolina and three in New York, Minnesota and California. In North Carolina, social services departments in Yadkin, Davie, Cabarrus, Macon, Cleveland, Orange, Mecklenburg and Gaston counties have the system in place, and Moore County officials voted Monday night to implement the system.
Drabek said Rowan County could be reimbursed for up to 70 percent of the $456,670 implementation cost. This would include $289,429 for hardware and software, $55,116 for the first year of maintenance and $112,125 for Northwoods Professional Services.
Two Northwoods employees, one with 18 years social services experience and the other with 13, live in Davidson County and would be available to help with maintenance. Employees from the home office would also help with the implementation of the system.
Drabek said the electronic documentation system helps social services departments meet federal and state performance standards, improve customer service levels and staff morale and dramatically reduce agency operating expenses for such budget items as paper, toner for printers and filing units.
The system would also free up existing file storage space for other purposes, he said. After six months on the Northwoods system, the Yadkin County Department of Social Services was able to convert space formerly used for file storage into five new offices and a conference room.
Drabek included in his presentation the amount of money departments with the electronic document management system saved in paper costs as well as the number of trees that have been saved.
As part of the document management system, verification documents needed for applications for public assistance programs would be scanned, then returned to the owner with a printed receipt.
Once the documents are in the system, Drabek said they would be immediately routed to one or multiple eligibility workers, who would have easy access to forms. The system also allows for the retrieval of documents through state or county case management and follow up and tracking of documents.
If county commissioners approve implementation of the system, Drabek said the department could avoid the competitive bidding process of piggybacking on another county’s bids as allowed by state statute.
Wilkes has included the electronic document system in a written report on the department’s programs and needs to be reviewed by county commissioners at their retreat next week.
Contact Kathy Chaffin at 704-797-4249.