The Indiana Family and Social Services Administration released details Sunday of what it is calling a "hybrid plan" that will keep the best aspects of the automated system but add more personal contact between caseworkers and clients. The agency said the changes will improve state oversight of the private portions of the system, keep better tabs on documents submitted by clients and move more workers from call centers to county welfare offices.
"That bodes well for more flexibility and problem-solving and less delay in discovering the problems and coming up with a solution," said Paul Chase, associate state director of AARP.
Gov. Mitch Daniels fired Armonk, N.Y.-based IBM as the lead contractor on the $1.34 billion automation project in October after a hail of criticism from clients, lawmakers, federal officials and others over problems that included lost documents, lengthy hold times for the call centers and too many errors in processing of food stamps and Medicaid. IBM's contract expires Monday.
Under the hybrid plan, FSSA will replace IBM as the project leader and take over from a second contractor, Crowe Horwath, which had been responsible for working with social service providers in the private system and resolving clients' problems.
The agency will add deputy regional managers for each of the state's eight regions, plus more supervisors to oversee the work of case management teams, FSSA spokesman Marcus Barlow said Friday at a briefing for reporters on the condition that details not be released until Sunday.
Each team of five to 10 state and private employees will be assigned to cases in a specific county. Special teams will be assigned to elderly and disabled clients who need more personal attention.
The team approach addresses a key criticism of the IBM system, which let case workers across the state access and work on cases. Having teams assigned to specific cases makes them responsible for resolving any problems with those cases, Barlow said.
"They're really, I believe, struggling to answer that question of accountability and make it more user-friendly to folks," said John Dickerson, executive director of the ARC of Indiana, which represents developmentally disabled Hoosiers and their families.
However, the state will continue to have phone and online services for clients comfortable using them.
Dickerson, AARP'S Chase and other advocates and providers sat on an advisory group that made recommendations to FSSA Secretary Anne Murphy as FSSA developed the hybrid plan.
"They really started listening. There was a real give and take on this," Dickerson said. "I think they're going to roll it out in a thoughtful way at a time when demand is greater than it's ever been."
FSSA had introduced the privatized, automated system to 59 of Indiana's 92 counties before Murphy halted the rollout when she became FSSA's secretary in January. The remaining 33 counties, which include the cities of Indianapolis, Gary and South Bend, still operate under the old welfare intake system of face-to-face casework.
About 1.2 million people receive Medicaid, food stamps and other benefits through the state's welfare program.
The hybrid plan will be introduced in January to 10 of the 59 counties in the southwestern corner of the state surrounding Evansville, Barlow said. Those counties are Davies, Dubois, Gibson, Knox, Perry, Pike, Posey, Spencer, Warrick and Vanderburgh.
It's not certain when the hybrid program will be introduced in other regions, Barlow said. The agency wants to ensure that the program reduces errors and addresses problems in the automated system before expanding it, he said.
Steve McCaffrey, president and CEO of Mental Health America of Indiana, which represents providers, patients and their families, said the hybrid plan, with its technology and face-to-face contact, looks good on paper.
"I think this is what they should have done the first time," McCaffrey said. "At the conceptual level, it does make a lot of sense. Obviously, implementation is what matters."