Electronic imaging system could increase efficiency for DSS

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, December 2, 2009

By Kathy Chaffin
Salisbury Post
An electronic imaging system priced at almost $917,000 could reduce the amount of paperwork in the Rowan County Department of Social Services by half.
At least that’s what happened when the Yadkin County Department of Social Services purchased the system, Sandra Wilkes told the Rowan Board of Social Services Tuesday night.
Wilkes, director of the Rowan department, visited the Yadkin Social Services ó one of two in the state with the imaging system ó and was told that its paper usage had been reduced by 50 percent within the first year.
One of the Yadkin department’s big filing rooms was completely empty, she said, freeing up the space for other uses. Wilkes said Rowan caseworkers average filling four to five filing cabinets apiece with paperwork.
The imaging system ó created by Northwoods Consulting Partners of Dublin, Ohio ó features an appointment management component connecting clients to caseworkers; a document management component with point-of-contact document scanning and routing of scanned documents to multiple workers; and a forms management component allowing for electronic completion of Department of Social Services state and county forms.
Because the majority of the estimated $916,514 cost is for software, Wilkes said the reimbursement from the state is only projected to be $107,654. That would leave the county paying $808,860 of the system, which Wilkes included in the Department of Social Services’ budget request for the 2008-2009 fiscal year.
Board members spoke in support of the electronic imaging system.
Jim Sides, who represents county commissioners on the board, said the document management system would enable staff in different departments to access scanned materials. For people applying for more than one assistance program, he said their documents would have to be scanned only once and entered into the system.
Board member Carl Ford said the imaging system would also eliminate some of the square footage required for storing paperwork. Sides spoke earlier in the meeting about county commissioners’ challenge to renovate and add to the Rowan County Health Services building to accommodate the Social Services staff.
Plans submitted last month by Salisbury architect Bill Burgin were $2.25 to $4.5 million higher than original estimates, increases which Sides called unacceptable. The square footage was higher as well based on architects’ assessment of needs, input from staff and visit to the Lincoln County Department of Social Services.
Wilkes said the imaging system would also cut back on staff time. Case reviews, for example, which normally take 30 minutes, could be completed in a third of the time because staff would be able to access everything on the computer.
The appointment management part of the system would increase the department’s efficiency by alerting caseworkers of their clients’ arrival through automated check-in and electronic assignment of client to worker. Supervisors would also be notified electronically when clients are not seen promptly.
In answer to a question by Sides about whether the imaging system could be implemented in stages, Wilkes said the appointment management component could be added at a later date. The document management and forms components, however, would have to be installed together, she said.
This would reduce the initial cost of the system to $726,514.
“We hope we can have a system at some time in the near future,” Wilkes said, “but it is expensive. We know that.”
Sides said the imaging system could eventually eliminate the need for the department to request additional positions every year by allowing existing staff to work more efficiently.
The $450,000 in software purchased for the county planning and inspections departments, for example, allows staff to work from laptops in their vehicles instead of reporting to the office every morning and afternoon. In the mornings, Sides said they can check their appointments via laptops and go directly to the sites, entering results on the laptops after each visit.
The imaging system is something the county needs to consider for Social Services, he said. “For efficiency, it does make sense.”
Board Chairman Dr. Nilous Avery said, “We’re going to hope you can do this.”
Contact Kathy Chaffin at 704-797-4249 or kchaffin@salisburypost.com.