Magazine article Policy & Practice

The Case for Process Management

Magazine article Policy & Practice

The Case for Process Management

Article excerpt

What we found in New Mexico was that process management allowed us to serve increased numbers of clients without increased stress for our staff.

-KATIE FALLS, ACTING SECRETARY, NEW MEXICO HUMAN SERVICES DEPARTMENT

These last two years have tested the capacity of our SNAP offices nationwide. Systems across the country are facing crushing increases in caseloads, diminishing timeliness, operational inconsistencies, poor quality, revolving doors for staff, unhappy customers and costly errors.

We used to be able to meet increased demands by leaning heavier on the staff, pushing their caseloads and their stress levels beyond capacity. We have filled their glasses full. And now? We are trying to pour 40 percent more water into already full glasses. The results? Employees are leaving, customers are falling through the cracks, and time to get benefits and error rates is increasing. The obvious option is to add more staff; but in this budget climate, it isn't feasible. The only two options are to reduce the amount of water coming in or to increase the capacity of the glass. This article will show you how to do both by moving from a case management model to process management.

Standing in the lobby of most SNAP offices is like standing in flood waters. From opening to closing time, it's a constant stream of people needing help. How can we possibly serve all these people? We can't, and the good news is we don't have to.

Our research consistently shows that 70-80 percent of the people in line simply shouldn't be there at all. Fewer than 3 out of 10 visitors are there to apply for benefits, yet all 10 are being poured into the already overflowing case manager glasses. Why is everyone else there?

1. Because we take too long. More than 40 percent of the visitors to the office are there to ask "where's my stuff?" I dropped it off, did you get it? I can't get my caseworker to answer my calls, so can I speak with him/her? Why did I lose service? What does this letter mean?" And I'm here because I don't trust that you will receive it through the drop box or through the mail.

2. Because we couldn't get it done on the first try. Seven out of 10 customers typically can't complete the application on the first try and have to interact with us again--clogging the lobby, the phone lines and the mailboxes.

3. Because we were late renewing customers. Renewing a customer for the SNAP program is much easier than an initial application process. However, miss the renewal and applicants have to go through the arduous process all over again, or take critical staff time to reinstate them outside of the normal process. In many of the offices we have worked with, more than half of the customers are not renewed on time. A majority of those (70-80 percent) will be back in the office in less than three months to start a new application. The extra work caused by missed renewals accounted for 56 full-time-staff equivalents in one state alone. What do these numbers tell us?

Our pain is self-inflicted. Most of the work flooding our offices is because of our own processes, policies and constraints. And the biggest constraint we face is our business model--case management.

Increasing Our Capacity

So how did it get this way? Many try to blame the customers. "If they would only keep their appointments, or remember to bring in their documents." Many try to lay the blame on the staff. "They need to work harder or smarter and stay on top of their cases." The reality is, it's not the fault of the customers or the staff. They are both victims of the business system--one that has served us so well for so long but can no longer meet the demand--case management.

Most human service delivery models are based on case management wherein a caseworker shepherds customers through all the steps necessary to receive their benefits. There is almost a romantic notion that the personal touch involved with case management comforts our customers and that staff ownership of cases breeds accountability. …

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