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Appointments and teamwork focus part of changes for the co.'s income maintenance unit

WILLMAR -- Kandiyohi County's income maintenance unit is now requiring clients to make appointments to see case managers.

The change went into effect this week.

The intent is to improve the efficiency of the office and the quality of service provided to clients, said Family Service Director Jay Kieft, in a report Tuesday to the Kandiyohi County

Board of Commissioners.

Letters were sent to clients informing them of the change, with positive responses so far, said Kieft, noting that the "busyness" and "chaos" of the front office has already leveled off.

In the past, customers would wait in the lobby for an available case manager to review their information. Those counseling sessions were frequently interrupted as the case manager was needed to provide immediate information on other cases.

Those interruptions resulted in lost time and loss of focus, Kieft said.

Having appointments will improve customer service, he said, and will allow the office to work more efficiently when resources have decreased and demand has increased.

To handle immediate needs, Kieft said case workers will rotate into "buffer" positions to handle phone calls about program questions and individuals who drop in at the office.

The final step in the strategic transition is to have caseworkers back each other up and handle cases for clients if the assigned case worker is absent.

Kieft said a new "teamwork" focus will discourage case workers from talking about "their" caseload and instead refer to the caseload of the entire group.

"We are collectively responsible for the people we serve," Kieft said, and the counselors need to "trust each other enough" to handle client's needs.

At the same time, clients will be encouraged to focus on "my case" and not "my worker" when they come for their appointments, Kieft said.

Chairman Richard Falk said he liked the changes being made and that no matter who's working, people will be "taken care of."

In other action:

- The commissioners agreed to increase the fee for county nursing services paid by agencies from $40 and hour to $42.50 an hour for 2011 and $45 an hour in 2012. Ann Stehn, director of the Public Health Department, had requested a $45 fee for 2011 to help cover actual costs. The commissioners said that increase was too high for 2011 in light of budget reductions. The nursing service is used by agencies like schools, day cares and the jail. Stehn said the service is "not a money-making venture."

- The commissioners heard an update from Kate Selseth of the Minnesota River Area Agency on Aging about several programs, including writing grants for counseling programs for elderly Somali residents as they struggle with the stresses of a new language and adapting to different foods and cultural changes.

Carolyn Lange

A reporter for 35 years, Carolyn Lange covers regional news with the West Central Tribune.

(320) 894-9750