DOVER-FOXCROFT, Maine — With no office of the Department of Health and Human Services in Piscataquis County — one of three counties along with Lincoln and Sagadahoc to not have such a facility — residents often have to go to Bangor or Skowhegan to access services. Now a new electronic kiosk at Penquis’ 50 North St. location will help alleviate the situation as residents can enroll and keep up to date with agency programs right at Penquis or through any Internet connection.
A meeting of representatives from the DHHS Office for Family Independence, local officials, agency representatives and Helping Hands with Heart was held on June 6 at Penquis to introduce the electronic kiosk and to provide information on how it can help serve the region’s residents.
Helping Hands with Heart chairwoman Patty Smith said the organization works to serve the Highlands area, consisting of Piscataquis County as well as some adjacent communities in Penobscot and Somerset counties.
“We do a lot of advocacy for children and families, and we are made up of professionals who work with children and families and advocates,” she said. “We typically problem solve and find a way to pay for things,” Smith said about how Helping Hands with Heart works to provide needed items and has organized trainings and seminars such as for early education providers.
“We have been advocating for a DHHS presence in Piscataquis County for a year now,” Smith said, as Helping Hands with Heart has worked to provide the electronic kiosk at Penquis.
DHHS Office for Family Independence Deputy Director Mike Frey said the agency realizes there are obstacles for Maine residents in accessing agency programs, including, in addition to geographic distances from DHHS locations, the workload for DHHS employees. He said the Bangor office has an eligibility staff of a little more than 40, each with about 850 household cases to oversee before the many phone calls coming from those inquiring about receiving services.
Frey said earlier this year DHHS worked with a consulting firm that had done similar work in other states to see how the agency could improve its delivery of services, with a new business model being streamlined, more efficient, simpler, less tied to regional offices and enhancing program integrity. He said the features of the new business model, none of which were unexpected, are that staff no longer own caseloads, a variety of access points are available for clients, work will be directed to queues on a statewide or regional basis using workflow management tools and processing activities can occur at one or multiple locations.
“Currently there are a couple of offices, in my mind, really where it is impossible to keep up on the workload,” Frey said. He explained that some DHHS offices also are coping with a high turnover of employees and the workload could be spread around the state to have lesser volume offices take on some of the cases from the busier locations.
The kiosk “is a little piece to this bigger plan,” Frey said. He said often eligibility workers will spend a good deal of time with new or potential client by entering data. “At this kiosk here what can happen is someone can go and complete their application, scan their pay stubs and they can pick up the phone and they can be interviewed,” he said, as the task of handling phone calls can be spread around Maine instead of having to call the closest DHHS office.
DHHS Office for Family Independence Management Information Systems and Quality Assurance Director Tony Pelotte said that kiosk users will establish an account on My Maine Connection (www.maine.gov/MyMaineConection) which includes a username and password and several security questions. He said My Maine Connection can be accessed from any Internet connection, including DHHS kiosks, to enable applications and renewals for food supplement, medical assistance, temporary assistance for needy families and child care.
“This will allow for them to do automatic updates [such as address and phone number changes],” Pelotte said. “The monetary amounts and dates will be listed and they can sign up to get notices electronically,” he added, mentioning the kiosks and My Maine Connection are both compliant with the Affordable Care Act standards.