New system will help DSS save money

Published 7:06 am Thursday, March 25, 2010

Staff Writer

The Beaufort County Department of Social Services — in two months — is scheduled to begin using a new computerized case-management system that likely will result in a $2.2 million cost savings to the department and county taxpayers over the next five years.
The system, developed by Northwoods Consulting Partners of Columbus, Ohio, is already being used by social-services agencies in 13 North Carolina counties ranging in size from the 12-member agency in Transylvania County to the 500-plus-member agency in Mecklenburg County.
It was demonstrated Wednesday morning to the Beaufort County Board of Commissioners, which voted 6-0 to budget $90,000 this fiscal year to begin paying for the program, and the Department of Social Services’ Board of Directors.
“This is the next step in the journey we have been traveling,” said Commissioner Hood Richardson, who made the motion to buy the system.
It will not only result in substantial savings to the county, it also will improve service to the families served by the agency an improve employee morale, Beaufort County Social Services Director Sonya Toman said in an interview after the meeting.
“It’s just going to revolutionize our operations here,” she said.
DSS workers could begin using the system to process client files in May, according to Mike Draybek, manager of Northwoods’ Business Division, who demonstrated the system.
It will eliminate the need for most paperwork, reduce the amount of time staff members use to process applications for services and other forms and delay the need for hiring additional agency staff, even as demand for services increase, Draybek said.
The system implementation comes as the Department of Social Services experiences an increase in applications for its services as a result of the economic downturn and before eligibility guidelines for food stamps changes July 1 as a result of action by Congress, Toman told the two boards.
The total system cost of $442,920 includes hardware, software, training and other professional services and maintenance.
About half of the system’s cost — $228,384 — will be reimbursed by state and federal funds, leaving the cost to the county at $224,536, according to information distributed at the meeting.
The purchase is the second phase of a three-phase technology plan designed to reduce costs and improve efficiency at the department by using technology to handle most agency paperwork and for the agency to comply with state and federal rules.
Under the first phase of the program, department staff began to scan and store documents electronically. The third phase calls on the county to buy additional computer programs for the department.
The computer project is just one of the efforts implemented by the department in recent months that have generated more than $278,380 in savings to county taxpayers, according to a department efficiency report.
Commissioner Stan Deatherage was absent from the meeting. All other commissioners attended.