The Human in Human Services

Working for housing and community development agencies gave me many glimpses of health and human service agencies, both governmental and non-profits. As a result, I know many case managers, folks who’ve dedicated their professional lives to helping others through programs like homeless prevention, nutrition, vocational rehabilitation and foster care.

What’s so hard about dedicating your life to this profession? The job itself is a challenge: these case managers deal with a never-ending line of people, people who are in the throes of the most difficult and painful human experiences.

If you can believe it, actually doing the job is sometimes even more difficult. The regulatory complexity for their efforts – establishing eligibility for various types of assistance – is off the charts. While it’s formulated that an unemployed person needs temporary financial assistance, access to some food, eviction prevention and job retraining, the actual process to access those programs is needlessly complicated.

And, at the same time they’re navigating this complexity, they still have to collect paper documents that “prove” that the person in front of them is deserving of assistance. Then, they have to report the results through poorly designed databases and mainframe systems.

Here’s the kicker: public policy think tanks have often pointed out that the effectiveness of government assistance is related to, and improved by, the amount of human support program participants receive.

So, that overworked caseworker, who spends each day dealing with the most unfortunate aspects of our economy, must find time to support their clients emotionally, professionally and insightfully. And they have to find time to do this while constantly filing paper and checking regulations.

How can they find that time? Between the filing, the lines needing help, the long hours, poor pay and bad technology, the answer is they really can’t, at least not effectively.

In my software world, I’ve found that in order to find a solution, you have to start by asking: “What problem is it that you’re trying to solve?”

When I come across these people, they talk about the problems with the paper and the process. They share that, for them to do their jobs effectively, it needs to be centralized, organized and processed in a very deliberate way.

Also in my software world, I love when I can easily identify which type of technology is best suited to solve a given problem. This is one of those times: this problem is exactly what integrated document management and workflow solutions were designed to solve.

Transactional content management, or in this instance it might be called case management, isn’t only about aiding the back office in becoming more compliant and efficient. It’s actually improving the lives of those that the case workers are helping.

Here are a few examples:

•Lost documents are eliminated, saving clients from having to resubmit necessary paperwork again and again.
•Security for sensitive information that previously resided on that paper is improved, and the pressures of space constraints are reduced because less physical file storage is needed.
•Workflow automation routes documents, speeds up eligibility reviews, identifies documents for completion and creates correspondence.
•These tools are integrated with the data systems used for managing the case, meaning employees can continue to use the systems they’re familiar with.
•Other parts of the agency benefit, too – workflow can manage many other processes like accounts payable or human resources processes, as well as reminders to accounting and audit documentation.

It’s a change in mindset for sure – it’s not technology, it’s a solution to a problem. When you think about it from that perspective, it becomes easy to justify, select, implement and use it to solve that problem. And in this case, the result is happier case workers being more effective in extending their help to those who need it most.

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