Newsroom > DHHS News Release

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
October 16, 2012
 
CONTACT
Russ Reno, Communications and Legislative Services, (o) 402-471-8287, (c) 402-450-7318 russ.reno@nebraska.gov)
 
ACCESSNebraska makes progress on services to public assistance clients
 
Lincoln – Progress has been made in addressing issues about ACCESSNebraska, said Thomas Pristow, director of Children and Family Services in the Department of Health and Human Services, Tuesday (10/16) at a hearing on LR 551 before the Legislature’s Health and Human Services Committee.
 
LR 551 assesses the effectiveness of ACCESSNebraska for clients, community-based partners, and workers. ACCESSNebraska allows online and phone access for Nebraskans to apply, check and change benefits for public assistance programs.
 
“I want to assure you from the get-go that we have made progress in addressing the issues brought before this committee, and that we continue to evaluate and make adjustments to further improve the system,” Pristow said. “We will always strive to improve.”
 
He said employees receive 16 weeks of training in customer service, operating the software and learning the details of 16 complicated economic assistance programs.
 
“We expect our employees to reach proficiency in no later than 24 months,” Pristow said. “Two of our four customer service centers opened in the last 12 months, another in the last 18 months. We have been fully operational for less than one year.”
 
Seventy percent of employees have held their jobs less than 18 months, he said, and 26 percent have worked less than a year. Another 56 employees are in training and will begin work by the end of this year.
 
Pristow said that since taking his position in March, he continues to meet with employees and advocacy groups, study reports and listen to concerns and opinions. “I feel confident in saying our technology and business structure is the gold standard for delivery of public assistance across the country. I back my statement with supporting comments made in a recent visit by the U.S.D.A., which is pushing states to move in this direction, the emails we receive from clients, their responses to an online poll, my observations and the history of other states engaged in implementing this approach to client service.”
 
He said among changes made in recent months was the assignment of workers with greater experience to specific cases, such as refugees and spousal impoverishment. Nursing home cases, which can be complex, also will be assigned to specific workers. “We believe there is a benefit to having the continuity and experience of assigned workers.”  
 
Another change was eliminating a target number of phone calls that employees were required to answer. Pristow said the targets pushed employees to rush through calls, affecting accuracy. Instead, employee performance will focus on quality work, good customer service and handling calls efficiently and effectively. Also, a stronger emphasis has been placed on one-call resolution and answering questions correctly the first time.
 
DHHS is working with 600 community-based organizations, a list can be found at: www.dhhs.ne.gov/ACCESSNebraskaPartners, he said. Additional staff has been placed in 41 local offices to help serve walk-in clients, and 31 offices have kiosks for client use.
 
Pristow said DHHS could have done a better job communicating the impact of moving cases from individual workers to a universal caseload. “It was a significant change for our clients and staff.”
 
ACCESSNebraska receives 6,000-7,000 calls a day, he said, with the highest volume on Mondays, the day after holidays, and when the seasons change and applications are due for programs.

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