Sponsored By
An organization or individual has paid for the creation of this work but did not approve or review it.

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

North Dakota Department of Human Services redesign 'an ongoing process'

social services.jpg
Christopher Jones (left) executive director of North Dakota Human Services, answers questions with Sarah Stolt, transformation manager of the department. (Adam Kurtz/ Grand Forks Herald)
We are part of The Trust Project.

Changes at the North Dakota Department of Human Services are underway, and some already have met with success, according to agency leaders who visited Grand Forks last week.

The changes — ranging from staffing ratios to creation of "human service zones" —are part of an effort to rethink and redesign the department.

“I’ll tell you that we have just started to graze the surface,” Transformation Manager Sara Stolt said. “This is an ongoing process. Our redesign is not a one-and-done. We will be constantly looking at every program on an ongoing basis to say ‘how can we improve this?’”

Stolt, DHS Executive Director Christopher Jones and Pamela Stagness, director of the department’s Behavioral Health Division, last week spoke to an audience of more than 50 service providers, state legislators and members of the community at the CanadInn in Grand Forks, discussing changes to the department triggered by recent legislation.

On the regulatory side, the creation of up to 19 “human service zones” is well under way, though not completely finalized, according to Jones. The creation of the zones is meant to provide consistent social services to residents across North Dakota, as well as expand access points for services.

ADVERTISEMENT

“We are removing boundaries …” Stolt said of the redesign. “We are taking 53 counties, 47 social services offices, and creating 19 zones, but as a client, I can now go anywhere for services.”

That means clients are not bound to visit a social service center only in the county in which they reside.

The process began in 2017, with Senate bill 2206, which began as a property tax bill. The cost of funding county social services was tied to property tax income, which meant the different tax bases in each county led to inconsistent services. The social services redesign eliminates these inconsistencies by funding these programs through the state.

The redesign also seeks to expand the delivery of services beyond the brick-and-mortar social service location, to such places as schools, jails and public health offices. It's an effort to improve client outcomes.

“We’re bringing services to people where they are located, when they need them,” said Stolt.

Social Services in North Dakota include child and family services, such as foster care, child protective services and investigating child abuse allegations. Services for adults are also included, such as assistance for elderly and disabled people.

A large part of the redesign extends to changing the culture of the department to being client-focused.

“We exist to serve the client,” said Jones. “We don’t exist as an employment agency, we don’t exist as providing dollars to other providers. To be successful we have to be focused on how we ensure that the services that are being provided are quality and effective to meeting the mission of DHS.”

ADVERTISEMENT

According to Stolt, the overall trend of the department is tending toward the creation of specialty teams, such as child care licensing, home and community-based services, case management, eligibility determination for long term care and the creation of a quality control team.

The creation of specialty teams allows for department workers to focus on one area, which gives the department the ability to move staff to priority areas, without eliminating positions.

“A perfect example is our CPS redesign.” said Stolt. “We found that … we had four people who were covering child protection supervisor duties, but our staffing ratio really only required one.”

Some changes in the department have met with success already. Fingerprint-based background checks for child care providers previously took more than 25 days to complete, and the paperwork to do so often resulted in errors. With the redesign, the average background check took six to eight days, and errors were reduced to 10% on forms.

Adam Kurtz is the community editor for the Grand Forks Herald. He covers higher education and other topics in Grand Forks County and the city.

Kurtz joined the Herald in July 2019. He covered business and county government topics before covering higher education and some military topics.

Tips and story ideas are welcome. Get in touch with him at akurtz@gfherald.com, or DM at @ByAdamKurtz.

Desk: 701-780-1110
What to read next
Gay and bisexual men had once been barred from donating blood due to HIV concerns. After easing the restrictions over time, the FDA may significantly ease the restrictions once again to expand the donor-eligible population.
When your alarm clock goes off, do you hop out of bed feeling refreshed and ready to tackle the day? Or are you groggy, tired and would rather hit snooze and sleep longer? A new study shows that the secret to feeling more energetic in the morning is to do three things. Viv Williams has the details in this episode of NewsMD's "Health Fusion."
North Dakota legislators have been studying ways to close gaps in mental health services, including a new state hospital integrated with better local treatment options
As common respiratory illnesses like COVID-19, influenza and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) spread this winter, vaccines are the best way to prevent serious outcomes said Shawn McBride, public health epidemiologist.