ALPENA -The Department of Human Services offices in Alpena and Atlanta are going paperless in an effort to streamline their operations and better serve its clients.
As part of a statewide change, people can now apply for all DHS programs online, at www.mibridges.michigan.gov, anywhere they have access to a computer, Community Resource Coordinator Carrie Badgero said. This includes places like public libraries, or even at home. The goal is to make it easier and more convenient for clients to apply. Once they're signed up, they also can view information like remaining balances for food assistance online as well.
Clients can get communications from the DHS online, Badgero said, adding that clients still will need to meet with their case workers.
If applying online sounds like a daunting task, fear not: volunteers and DHS staff can help those who need it, Badgero said.
"There's a level of intimidation when (clients) hear they have to apply online, but we are here to help them every step of the way," she said, adding that paper applications are available as well.
There are two kiosks at the Alpena office, Badgero said, and volunteers are typically there from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. every day to direct people to where they need to go. Alpena's lobby has been tweaked in an effort to decrease wait times, and volunteers will direct people to either the kiosk, the drop box for documents, the copy machine or the window if they have an appointment.
Along with taking applications online, the offices will start scanning and indexing documents as part of going paperless, office Director John Keller said. Implementing the department's electronic data management will put clients' documents within easy reach. By allowing clients to submit copies of original documents, there's also less of a chance of important documents being lost.
"We have a large volume of paper coming into this office," he said. "This is going to increase efficiency."
Now, clients will copy their originals, write their name and case number on each page, and drop them off, Keller said. Once they're scanned and indexed, DHS staff destroy the copies after 90 days.
By operating more efficiently, the change should benefit clients in the long run, Keller said.
"We've had some really good results," he said. "Our staff has these documents on index at their fingertips, instead of having to go through a file."
Getting people through the office in a timely manner and managing their files efficiently is especially important given the amount of people the office handles, Badgero said. From October 2011 to September 2012, there were an average of 8,186 people in Alpena County receiving assistance through one of five programs, either the Family Independence Program, the Food Assistance Program, State Disability Assistance, Child Development and Care or Medicaid.