HHS shifts services to call centers


October 12th, 2010

By Fred Knapp, NET News

The Department of Health and Human Services said handling requests for economic assistance through call centers will be more efficient.  But, a union representing state workers isn’t happy about the move.  The change affects how Nebraskan are interviewed and have their applications processed for food stamps, welfare, Medicaid and other benefits.  Instead of going to a local Health and Human Services office and talking to a caseworker, people will soon be able to call one of the four customer service centers around the state.

Health and Human Service (HHS) CEO, Kerry Winterer spoke at the ribbon-cutting for the first one in Lincoln on Tuesday.  He said the call center will make state government work better.  “More than ever before we’re working to bring efficiencies to the people in our state.  That means doing our best to provide great customer service and make it easier for people who are eligible for our services.”

The plan is to open call centers in Fremont, Lexington and Scottsbluff, in addition to Lincoln, by 2012.  Todd Reckling, director of HHS’s Division of Children and Family Services, said that will eventually eliminate the need for about two-hundred jobs, and save five million dollars a year.  Julie Dake Abel is executive director of the NAPE/AFSME state employees union, which has opposed the move.  Dake Abel said she’s concerned now that it’s happening, “Our concern down the line is that they will end up privatizing it…I believe they will try to and privatize, even though they may say differently, that they will try and privatize the call centers to reduce government.  And government is one of the more efficient ways that you can actually do services.”

Reckling also added HHS intends to continue to staff the call centers with state employees who are familiar with the programs.  And officials say local offices will remain open to deal with people who perfer to have their applications handled in person.

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