Busy Times Lead to Request for Lobby Relief

We have never been busier in our public assistance programs.

Even when I talk to some of those who have been here much longer than my 17 years, they do not remember being this busy. We do not have records going back into the early 1980s and late 1970s, but I am fairly confident in saying that some of the numbers we are seeing today are records for this agency. We have 110,000 people in this county receiving food assistance. That is one in seven county residents. Even more — 135,000 — receive Medicaid. The economy has definitely taken its toll on this community.

Right now, about 56,000 people a month come through our doors at 222 E. Central Parkway. We will soon close our 237 William H. Taft Road office, so the numbers will increase. As you can imagine, it gets very crowded at times. I would like to solicit your help in alleviating this problem. We offer a number of alternatives to face-to-face visits at our downtown locations. Please help us spread the word about these alternatives:

— Quick answers to basic questions about our programs and services are available by visiting our Web site, www.hcjfs.org. There is a wealth of information about Medicaid, food assistance, cash assistance, child support, child care, child protection and other services, as well as commonly-used forms and applications for services at the site’s Online Service Center. There are also online calculators to help determine if someone qualifies for services. Customers can report a change to a case, ask a question or make a suggestion.

— Another way to do business with us is through a partnership with the Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County. Residents who want to access our services can fax applications and verification forms (copies of birth certificates, divorce decrees, etc.) at any library branch.

— We also offer biweekly live chats on our Web site. Here, Hamilton County residents can ask a question and get an immediate response to inquiries about how programs work. They also can learn from answers to questions asked by others.

— Child Support provides private one-on-one chats from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. weekdays. Customers can access the chats from our Web site’s Child Support page and get quick, confidential answers to questions about their cases.

— We also provide presentations and informational tables for events and organizations through our Speakers Bureau. Our speakers can help with how to best access our services and answer basic questions about how the programs work. Those interested can request a speaker through our Speaker Request form under Contact Us on the Web site.

— In recent months, we have taken advantage of free social media platforms – Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, BlogTalkRadio – to help people better understand our programs and services. There are links on the home page of our Web site. This is another quick way to learn about our services and programs.

Please help spread the word about these other avenues for accessing JFS. It is not just a benefit to our agency, it saves residents a trip downtown, including gas money and the time they would spend in our increasingly long lines.

Help Available for Uninsured

I was alarmed to see this story about nearly 235,000 local residents without health insurance:
http://news.cincinnati.com/article/20090921/NEWS01/909220350/1168/NEWS0101/234+000+lack+health+insurance

It is sad to see so many people in need. Do you realize that 140,00 people in this county receive Medicaid? That is one in six county residents.

I have a feeling some of the people in this 235,000 crowd would qualify for Medicaid, but do not apply. The program is available for low-income residents who are disabled, for children and their mothers, for those over 65 and some others. Please visit our Web site, www.hcjfs.org for more information and, if you qualify, please reach out to us.

Agency employee wins PCSAO award

I am proud to announce that Gail Merkle, a Hamilton County Children’s Services caseworker, received the Public Children’s Services Association of Ohio’s (PCSAO) Child Protection Worker of the Year Award last week during the association’s conference. The award is given annually to a Children’s Services caseworker in Ohio who shows the ability to develop positive relationships with children and families; shows leadership, initiative, commitment and independency; and is an effective advocate for children and families. Gail was nominated by her supervisor, Natrasha Christian-Beasley, and her section chief, Denise Orchard.

Gail, who has worked as a caseworker in Hamilton County for three years, is a perfect example of an advocate for our agency’s children and families. One specific case where Gail showed compassion and dedication was that of a 2-year-old boy who while in the process of moving towards permanent custody, experienced what was believed to be a seizure. For weeks, his condition changed from day-to-day; he would show periods of recovery and then with no cause, slip backwards. What was once a developmentally-on-target child was changing in front of Gail’s eyes.

Remarkably, each time Gail would visit, the child showed improvement. The doctors and the nurses informed her that the boy’s improvements usually occurred when she was with him. So what does a caseworker do when doctors tell her this about a child, but also knowing she has other families and children who need her help? For Gail, it was a no-brainer. She worked her other cases as before and visited the child every day (sometimes in the early morning or late evening).

“After months of worry and uncertainty, the young boy is now healthy, thanks to the care and concern of Ms. Merkle,” Christian-Beasley wrote in the nomination. “This is just one story that epitomizes Ms. Merkle’s passion for helping others less fortunate and more important, and understanding of her role to advocate on a child’s behalf for their well-being.”

Gail has been a constant in the child’s life and she is doing what any parent/guardian would do. Thank you, Gail, for the hard work and dedication you show towards the agency’s children and families.

Cost savings through efficiency

It is always important for government to be efficient. But it is even more important in an economy such as this.

At a time when our budget is tightening, we look even more for innovative and creative ideas that can save money. I’m proud that some of our employees have implemented a change to the thousands of child care vouchers we regularly distribute that should help us save significant dollars.

Previously, individual vouchers were mailed in separate envelopes to consumers. Now, up to eight vouchers for one consumer will be mailed in a single envelope – significantly reducing the mailing cost.

Instead of a three-part carbonless form, the voucher is now a single 8 ½ X 11 sheet of paper divided by perforations into three sections — again, a significant cost reduction. Copy A is returned to HCJFS; Copy B is kept by the provider and Copy C is for the consumer to keep.

This will provide a great deal of savings in material and postage. At a time like this, I am proud that our employees are taking the initiative to be good stewards of taxpayer money.

Best month for discount card

More than 1,600 prescriptions were filled through the county’s Prescription Drug Discount Card Program in July. This is our best month yet.

Users averaged $9.41 in savings per prescription for a total of more than $15,000 in savings. At a time when the economy is taking its toll on this community, I am extremely excited that we have been able to find a way to help Hamilton County residents save a few dollars.

Since its inception in mid January, more than 8,400 prescriptions have been filled through the program, for a total savings of nearly $80,000.

If you are not familiar with the program, you can learn more at www.hamiltoncountyrx.com

18 Attend First Mentoring Orientation

I was extremely encouraged to see 18 caring individuals attend the first Higher Education Mentioning Initiative (HEMI) training this past Saturday. There was quite a mix of people, including many teachers and social workers.

One woman, who is now a stay-at-home mom, said she wanted to become a mentor because when she went through college, she did not have anyone to encourage and support her. She knew what our foster children were going through.

As you’ve read in this blog and elsewhere, HEMI is a much-needed program because it will improve the lives of our foster youth and improve this community. Thanks to those who boldly stepped forward to get the program started. Let’s hope this is the first of many training groups over the next many years.