Sunday, May 28, 2006

Scheduling Disasters

*Edited post to add a comment left that I didn't want missed by anyone reading...comment is at the end of this post in BLUE.*

One of the fallouts of the number of vacancies in the local offices is scheduling. For those who are not on the 'inside'- a Food Stamp application is not supposed to be scheduled any later than 20 days after the date the application is filed. The reason? Because we only have 30 days to actually take action on an application (unlike TAA which has, evidently, anywhere between 2-6 months) and we have to give the client 10 days (at least) to provide any information that is needed to complete the case.

One of the problems that offices faced some years back was when QC (Quality Control) called a case in error if someone was eligible for 'emergency food stamps' and was not certified within 7 days of the date of the application. This led many offices statewide to play catch up and get any and all Food Stamp applications scheduled within 7 days.

Now?

Some offices aren't able to get a client scheduled until 30 days after application was filed. There aren't enough workers to do it.

I mean, I suppose we could schedule appointments every 7 minutes (the length of time that TAA claimed it would take to do an interview with their 'new system'- ha!) and see about 40 people per day- but the quality would take a dive and there is no guarantee that clients would be getting the correct amount of benefits.

How do we solve this? I mean, the State can hire all the temps it wants, and we are glad to have them-but, it is just unfair to the temp workers that they are expected to know everything as soon as they land in their local office. As I've stated before- this job is not something you can 'learn' overnight. Matter of fact, 'back in the day' new workers went to BJST (Basic Job Skills Training) and were in a training environment for up to SIX months. I mean, we are dealing with many aspects of Policy here- Federal Policy for Food Stamps and State Policy for TANF (cash assistance) and Medicaid. Now? New workers are 'fast trained' in a matter of WEEKS and expected to come into the field and be able to offer substantial support to the local offices. They don't. Even in the old days- with 12 weeks of training- it still took a trainee a good YEAR to get really GOOD at what they did. We (I) am in no way putting this off on the Trainees-quite the contrary.

This brings us back to the scheduling problem. If local offices - due to vacancies - are starting to get to a point where they are delinquent before they even get the client scheduled- we are in serious trouble. This increases workloads (Of course), workers in the field feeling very overwhelmed (because unlike TAA -evidently- we, in the field, are still held accountable on our evaluations for delinquencies *we can ask for exceptions when they are not our fault, but that takes more time and more work to do as well*), we aren't following Federal Food Stamp policy and clients are highly frustrated. Local office clients are not USED to having to wait 4 weeks for an appointment. Before too long, it will only increase- which increases complaints, which further overwhelms office staff, which causes more people to quit, which leads to the hiring of temps who are not adequately trained, which leads to all of it all over again....let's not even talk about QC error rates- which, if they get to high, rather than the State receiving Enhanced Funding - they will be paying fines and penalties to the Feds. Sounds fun, doesn't it?

If HHSC is going to give bonuses to stick around this summer, they better get to it.

Comment added today (Monday):

Anonymous said...
I started working for Department of Human Services as a Texas Works Advisor Trainee in February 2003. We were the last BJST class before the in-famous TIERS started to roll-out.


The BJST started February 3rd, 2003 until May 5th 2003. This was just for Food Stamps and Medicaid training. We then went back in June for a month and a week or two to train for TANF. I then returned to my office and interviewed 2 cases a day. That alone was so difficult because of the complex policies and procedures. I was very thankful that I was in a smaller office with about 6 workers who were ALL very tenured workers. And, my mentor who was assigned to me for 6 months was great. If I had not been in a small office (most workers aren't) I am sure that they would have not had enough time to dedicate to me. You are suppose to slowly get moved up from 2 cases a day up to 6 max per day for a whole year. I was pretty good at the casework and wanted to help out so, I got moved up pretty fast. But, normally the supervisors are suppose to follow a strict schedule. You are suppose to get increased a case each month you are there until you reach the 6 limit. Once I reached 6 cases a day it started to get very over-whelming.

There is so much policy and so many things that go wrong. That, only a tenured worker (and sometimes they don't know the answer) would know the way around the problem. It would get very frustrating but because of the tenured workers there, it made it alot easier than it normally would be in a larger office. The workers would tell me it takes at least a full year to understand the whole picture of how everything works. That is very true!!!!

Alot of the other workers I trained with were in large offices (TIERS pilot area)and I heard about their trials and tribulations everyday. Especially once TIERS rolled out a few months AFTER they were trained on the old system. Out of about 20 workers that were in my training class about 9 were left after the year passed. Most were in the TIERS roll-out pilot area. And, the ones that were left were hanging on by the grace of God. It was seriously that bad and cudos for the one worker who is still there! I left the agency in February 2006. I was actually placed for a job with HHSC and was not going to be laid off. But, as each step progressed in that call center being started. I sensed the urgency to get out of there! By this time our supervisor left, our Worker IV was now our supervisor. One of our Worker III's was now our Worker IV, and we were half staffed. We were all able to deal with it (was not easy at all) because we all worked together (for the most part). We did have to see 30 minute appointments before I left. That is 12 in one day! That was in order for us to not have any delinquent Food Stamp cases over 30 days.

But, I knew that if one more person left it was going to start a huge decline in the office and all hell was going to break loose! And, it did. I left, another worker was transferred to her new job within HHSC. A temp left the agency. So, there is only one worker and one temp worker left (who only interviews food stamps) They do not care about timeliness now. The clients are pretty lucky just to get interviewed.

Anyway, my sister is now working for the agency and she is a temp worker. She only had 2 weeks of medicaid training. She goes to food stamp training soon and is only going to be trained for a month. And, probably the same with TANF for a month. I went to training for roughgly 4 1/2 months for all programs. She is going to be trained for 2 1/2 months. And, then 'thrown to the dogs' as we called it in a majorly short staffed office.Do the people running HHSC understand the complexity of what they are trying to do? Do they think they can throw in 7 dollar an hour employees with little or no education into a call center to answer questions on policy? Do they understand that even in local offices staffed by state employees had high turn-over rates and that the call centers staffed by 7 dollar an hour employees the turnover rate is going to be higher? Where is the quality of service going to go then? You barely got it in a full-staffed office because of the work-load. You think the people of Texas are going to get the quality of service with 7 dollar an hour employees are going to be answering the phones? 7 dollar an hour employees who are also receiving food stamps? Staff the call centers with all of these state employees you are going to lay off. You probably would still have problems. But, not as many as you would have with the 7 dollar an hour employees answering the phones. Let the tenured state workers answer the phones and work the cases. That is going to be the only answer to your problems.

6 comments:

Anonymous said...

Great post!

Anonymous said...

I started working for Department of Human Services as a Texas Works Advisor Trainee in February 2003. We were the last BJST class before the in-famous TIERS started to roll-out.

The BJST started February 3rd, 2003 until May 5th 2003. This was just for Food Stamps and Medicaid training.

We then went back in June for a month and a week or two to train for TANF.

I then returned to my office and interviewed 2 cases a day. That alone was so difficult because of the complex policies and procedures.

I was very thankful that I was in a smaller office with about 6 workers who were ALL very tenured workers. And, my mentor who was assigned to me for 6 months was great. If I had not been in a small office (most workers aren't) I am sure that they would have not had enough time to dedicate to me.

You are suppose to slowly get moved up from 2 cases a day up to 6 max per day for a whole year. I was pretty good at the casework and wanted to help out so, I got moved up pretty fast. But, normally the supervisors are suppose to follow a strict schedule. You are suppose to get increased a case each month you are there until you reach the 6 limit.

Once I reached 6 cases a day it started to get very over-whelming. There is so much policy and so many things that go wrong. That, only a tenured worker (and sometimes they don't know the answer) would know the way around the problem.

It would get very frustrating but because of the tenured workers there, it made it alot easier than it normally would be in a larger office. The workers would tell me it takes at least a full year to understand the whole picture of how everything works. That is very true!!!!

Alot of the other workers I trained with were in large offices (TIERS pilot area)
and I heard about their trials and tribulations everyday. Especially once TIERS rolled out a few months AFTER they were trained on the old system.

Out of about 20 workers that were in my training class about 9 were left after the year passed.

Most were in the TIERS roll-out pilot area. And, the ones that were left were hanging on by the grace of God. It was seriously that bad and cudos for the one worker who is still there!

I left the agency in February 2006. I was actually placed for a job with HHSC and was not going to be laid off. But, as each step progressed in that call center being started. I sensed the urgency to get out of there!

By this time our supervisor left, our Worker IV was now our supervisor. One of our Worker III's was now our Worker IV, and we were half staffed. We were all able to deal with it (was not easy at all) because we all worked together (for the most part). We did have to see 30 minute appointments before I left. That is 12 in one day! That was in order for us to not have any delinquent Food Stamp cases over 30 days.

But, I knew that if one more person left it was going to start a huge decline in the office and all hell was going to break loose!

And, it did. I left, another worker was transferred to her new job within HHSC. A temp left the agency. So, there is only one worker and one temp worker left (who only interviews food stamps)

They do not care about timeliness now. The clients are pretty lucky just to get interviewed.

Anyway, my sister is now working for the agency and she is a temp worker. She only had 2 weeks of medicaid training. She goes to food stamp training soon and is only going to be trained for a month. And, probably the same with TANF for a month.

I went to training for roughgly 4 1/2 months for all programs. She is going to be trained for 2 1/2 months. And, then 'thrown to the dogs' as we called it in a majorly short staffed office.

Do the people running HHSC understand the complexity of what they are trying to do?

Do they think they can throw in 7 dollar an hour employees with little or no education into a call center to answer questions on policy? Do they understand that even in local offices staffed by state employees had high turn-over rates and that the call centers staffed by 7 dollar an hour employees the turnover rate is going to be higher? Where is the quality of service going to go then? You barely got it in a full-staffed office because of the work-load. You think the people of Texas are going to get the quality of service with 7 dollar an hour employees are going to be answering the phones? 7 dollar an hour employees who are also receiving food stamps?

Staff the call centers with all of these state employees you are going to lay off. You probably would still have problems. But, not as many as you would have with the 7 dollar an hour employees answering the phones. Let the tenured state workers answer the phones and work the cases. That is going to be the only answer to your problems.

Anonymous said...

Folks, sorry to break up the lovefest but the "entry level" workers at the San Antonio office are doing you job better than you are with less training. The problem is not that the data entry people can not work cases as fast as you revered state workers can, it is that TIERS is a slow and most of the time monotonous program that requires lots of time. I have talked with many, many of the state workers who have come to observe. Many of them were critical or, at least, wary of all these entry level people doing the work.

After a few short days they commented to me at how great of a job they were doing and that the entry level staff had a greater grasp of policy in the few short months that had been working, than many of the people in the offices. No telling what these entry level people will be like once they get the hang of the process.

One state worker said that the problems people are having on the floor are the same problems experienced by state people. Lucky for us, we have state workers and former state workers who work on the floor to answer policy questions and bring everyone up to speed.

So, for all of you smart and intelligent state workers who seem to think that the world can not revolve without your knowledge, get over it.

This is a pilot program, once more, one that is only several months old. Everyone is still coming up to speed with the ungodly program of TIERS.

It will take TAA time to fix what you, the collect state worker, spent years screwing up. Why do you think they privatized it?

Anonymous said...

Dear Anonymous,

The reason they privatized is pure & simple - for corporations & former high-level state officials to PROFIT OFF THE POOR!

Texas had the best Food Stamp statistics (timeliness & accuracy - QC)of the big 5 states! They clearly threw the baby out with the bath water.

As someone who has spent most of their state tenure in training, state office clearly knows the reason that some tenured workers' knowledge & abilities decline is because we don't re-invest in them. We spend a lot of time training new workers (rightly, so - the policy & computer applications are complex). But, most tenured workers get minimal refresher training. Considering this, they do an incredible job!

Fr. John Whiteford said...

TIERS was not screwed up by HHSC workers. I was on a TIERS advisory committee before they signed the contract to develope the piece of crap system that they now have. They had field staff from every region in the state to provide feedback on what we needed in a new system. Problem was, they already knew what we needed, and just presented their ideas to us. We provided feedback to the extent that we could, but they weren't really interested in what we had to say. Then, as soon as they signed the new contract, they disbanded this committee, and so we never had a chance to provide feedback based on how the actual program worked.

This program was supposed to have been rolled out in 2001, they spent 300 million dollars on it, and it is a piece of crap. SAVERR, for all of its problems, is still a far faster, and more reliable system.

Those of us who have taken issue with the Accenture contract have never blamed the staff at Accenture for the problem. The problem is with a system that cannot work. I don't care how good the staff at accenture are, or get, they will not be able to save the state money with this system, because too many cooks are involved in determining eligibility, and if you had ever done interviews from start to finish (from taking the application, to the point of issuing the benefits, and all points in between) you would know why it is always worse to have more than one person involved in the interview process. It is too difficult to figure out what the previous person saw or did not see, when you are trying to figure out what the next step should be. It is better to have one person interview the client, and then do the follow up steps.

When I was a worker, and had to finish a case another worker had started, I generally had to call the client, and practically do another interview to make sure that the previous person didn't miss something, because in the old system, whoever actually certified the case was ultimately responsible for the case, regardless of what mis-steps anyone else might have made.

How then can you expect a HHSC worker to take a case from someone that they have never seen, and do not know, and trust the case work that they did. Either the worker will end up re-doing that work, or they will simply rubber stamp what the Accenture worker did. Neither alternative is an improvement on the old system.

Also, anyone who has ever done interviews will tell you that doing a face to face interview gives you a lot more information than doing one over the phobe, because people are much more comfortable lying over the phone than they are looking someone in the face.

At the end of the day, if we want quality cases that give people what they are actually eligible for, we should be doing face to face interviews.

In fact, doing occassional home interviews (like we used to do back in the day) gives you even more information than an in office interview can.

Anonymous said...

I believe what is really going to save the state money is to create the call centers.
But, have ALL eligibilty sides of it done by professional state workers that are TRAINED and actually know what is going on.