On February first, the Gambell Office plans to fully implement a new system of work that promises to dramatically change the way staff in the office manages the workload demands of one of DPA’s largest and busiest offices. This is the culmination of three months of hard work that relied on the support of staff from across the state.
Over the course of a week in late October, over 35 staff from across the division participated in an event that identified the Gambell Office’s workload demands, the key products of the eligibility process and the critical tasks and functions that create those products. The participants of the weeklong meeting charged themselves with looking at how the business processes at the Gambell Office could be changed to provide clients with what they really want and need: same day interviews; accurate benefits issued in a matter of a few days instead of weeks; a workflow that ensures every step is value-added for our clients, and; manageable workloads for staff. In the simplest terms, the model that evolved out of 5 days of intense work shifts the way work is done from a case management model to a process management system that focuses on the of key functions that go into an eligibility determination.
It certainly is not news to anyone in DPA that in the last year we have been inundated with individuals and families who are seeking our assistance so they can weather the impacts of a faltering economy. More Alaskans are also coming to our doors in response to our outreach efforts as well as those of advocates and community-based organizations. While we have some of the most dedicated professionals in state government in our workforce and we have been able to recruit many bright and energetic new employees, we struggle to manage the burgeoning workloads and the intense demands for our services.
We’ve tried a number of ways to address this challenge. Our efforts gravitated toward a comprehensive workload analysis, exploring how to better use technology, and figuring out how to get additional resources (a problem in a political and budgetary environment that can’t support creating new positions). We have developed new tools (e.g., the draft ET resource Guide) or enhanced some commonly used tools (CANO formats) and started down the path of standardizing what are acknowledged best practices. Arguably, while some of these efforts have provided a modicum of relief, they have not been able to provide a manageable body of work for eligibility and administrative support staff that enables us to provide the best possible service to the people we are charged with serving.
During those five days in October, we quickly learned that our problem was not our policies and it was certainly not the people doing the work. It was our core business processes. They simply are unable to meet the demands of a growing service population and the complex nature of the work itself. Beginning next week, this will all start to change.
Attached you’ll find 2 documents. The first is a report from the contractor that facilitated the October meeting. It is rather lengthy. However, the first 30 or so pages provide an excellent overview of the process the meeting participants went through to develop a system of work that will enable the office to provide the best possible service to our clients while providing a manageable body of work for staff. The second attachment is an article from Policy and Practice, the Magazine of the American Public Human Services Organization which makes the case for the type of service delivery model that will be soon implemented in the Central Region.
What’s next? Once the new system of work is initiated in the Gambell Office, the Gambell team and regional staff will work to ensure the process meets the expectations of clients and staff. As soon as the region’s leadership is confident that the new service delivery model is meeting our needs, it will be rolled out in the other offices in our Central Region.
In the interim, we will be pursuing another contract that will allow us to hold events, like the one held last October, across the state. We hope to be able to train staff who can both lead and facilitate these “events”. So, in addition to each region, every section and support unit in DPA will also be able to review and assess core business practices and processes to identify changes that provide the best possible service and outcomes.
In closing, my thanks to the Gambell and Central Region staff who were willing to explore alternatives and had the courage to pursue a totally different way of doing business. As always, the staff from across the state who have volunteered in so many different ways to help make this idea a reality have my deepest appreciation.
-Ron Kreher, Chief of Field Services