Official explains social service help after Marion office closes

ORIGINALLY WRITTEN JANET HAMOUS
Community stakeholders from throughout Marion County met in Marion Monday with the director of the Emporia office of Social and Rehabilitative Services to learn about the pending closing of the Marion SRS office.

The office is part of a second round of SRS office closings across the state.

Last October, 22 offices were told they would be consolidated with another office. Earlier this month, an additional 43 offices were notified they would be closed.

In the past, each county was required to have an SRS office, and there were 105 offices across the state, said Cyrilla Petracek of the Emporia Area SRS office. That requirement no longer exists, and the number of offices will soon be reduced to 40 statewide.

Although a closing date has not yet been set for the Marion office, Petracek said she expects it will be by July 1.

She described Monday’s meeting as an “information-gathering and information-giving” session to “discuss as partners new ways of providing services to Marion County residents.”

“You have to take a look at how you can be effective while being more efficient,” she said. “Budget and declining revenues have sped this up, but we were looking at service delivery before the budget started to decline.”

Petracek said the challenge is to determine “how we can still provide services to people who need them without cutting services and laying off staff.”

She said employees in the Marion office will be transferred to the El Dorado office.

“We are not anticipating any staff layoffs,” she said. “And there are no plans to change the case workers’ assigned counties.”

She said a lot of thought has been given to how they can streamline services by utilizing technology and operating more efficiently without “a bricks-and-mortar office.”

Jaryl Perkins is leader of the team charged with redesigning service delivery with the goal of providing “equal or better access.”

To assist in this process, the team reviewed data showing the types of services used at particular locations. The data showed that in December 2002, SRS services were being provided to 652 people in Marion County, and only 25 percent of them lived in Marion. Of the customers who had “high access needs,” only 20 percent of them lived in Marion.

This told them that people were able to successfully access services without living in a city with an SRS office.

For each of the services provided, the team asked, “What does the person truly need?” Perkins said.

“We asked ourselves what can we do to increase access not only in Marion but for Hillsboro and Peabody,” Perkins said.

Several ideas have surfaced that they hope will improve a customer’s ability to access services without a trip to an SRS office.

One improvement is an 800 toll-free number.

“We have never had this before,” Petracek said. “No consumer will have long-distance expenses.”

Petracek explained that when a customer places a call on the toll-free line, the call will be routed to the appropriate service center depending on the caller’s location.

“They will get a live body or get what they get today if it is automated,” she said.

Other improvements are an access code for food stamps, a revised brochure, and an updated Web site.

Beginning in July, an on-line application will be available.

“I know not everyone will want to sit at a computer, but we can work with partners to develop access sites so people do not have to travel to the office,” Petracek said. “If people want to come to the office, that will be a choice.”

Petracek said another goal is “universal access” that will enable a customer to access services at a location of their choice-thus residents of northern Marion County might use the Salina office, eastern county residents might use the office in Newton, and southern residents might choose to go to El Dorado.

This service is not ready yet, but is on the front burner, according to Petracek.

Petracek said she is hoping these changes will actually improve service quality and responsiveness.

“As we require people to come into the office less, we can do some other things,” she said. “We want to be more consumer friendly.”

Petracek believes they may actually see an increase in services by providing easier access to them.

“Frankly there are people who need services who are too embarrassed to come to the SRS office,” she said. “We want to increase access.”

Petracek said a critical aspect of the new SRS service delivery program will be to partner with local schools and businesses to provide places where consumers can access certain services.

“We either pay for bricks and mortar or we look at a different way to work with our partners and provide services for our customers,” she said.

Petracek said businesses will not be asked to be “mini SRS offices” but to offer whatever services they can without affecting their operation.

For example, locations may be identified to provide phone, fax or photocopy availability, forms, notary services, Internet access, or computers. SRS may also rely on certain partners to provide interview space, a drop box or a phone line for Tele-eye (interactive telephone).

“Can someone come in and make a phone call? Or let us put posters up or a little emblem in the window. We want to be sure that these things are available in the community,” she said. “It depends on what you and staff decide can be done.”

It has not yet been determined whether or how businesses will be compensated for services they provide.

Petracek said staff from the Marion SRS office will be participating on the redesign team.

“They will be asked to meet with you again to see what type of access points can be developed. It is a community plan, not an SRS plan.” she said. “We will be coming to you as partners.”

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