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Overhaul for agency that serves needy
December 17, 2012, 05:00 AM By Michelle Durand Daily Journal Staff
The noticeable change starts at the door of the Human Services Agency lobby in Redwood City.

A touch screen kiosk asks what the user needs. Applying for food stamps or Medi-Cal? The kiosk spits out a numbered ticket and a greeter gives the person the necessary forms to fill out before they are even called to a window. Need to drop off documents? The person is directed to a confidential box around the corner, right next to the new copy machine. Looking for Social Security? The kiosk informs the user is in the wrong location but prints out the office’s contact information.

In the quest to make residents who use county services more self-sufficient in terms of food, jobs and shelter, HSA is making it easier for clients to be more self-sufficient in connecting with those services. Apply online, update on the phone, submit paperwork — users may not even need a face-to-face appointment anymore. But when they do, the lobbies of HSA’s five offices will be better equipped to get them seen and served more efficiently.

The Redwood City location at 2500 Middlefield Road is the first of five to get the office facelift and the county celebrated the multi-year system redesign on Wednesday by showing off the renovated space. More than 90,000 residents currently use HSA’s services and, with the full start of the Affordable Care Act looming in 2014, Clarisa Simon, director of self-sufficiency, and HSA Director Beverly Beasley Johnson, said even more residents are expected through the doors.

An estimated 12,500 people will receive health insurance through the programs’ Medi-Cal expansion and those who receive one form of help through HSA often overlap with other services.

Clients previously had to wait in lines for their turn at a window to tell a worker their needs before being handed forms and told to fill them out, balancing a clipboard on their knees while often also trying to keep small children occupied. The process was lengthy, often frustrating and not the best use of time and resources for either workers or clients, HSA members said at the unveiling.

Now, the documents are completed at tables, phones are available for those whose problem can be solved with a call and toys will be mounted on walls and inside a glassed-in play area to keep tiny hands and minds occupied while Mom and Dad focus on the tasks at hand. The kiosk will deliver the client’s requirements directly to a worker so that he or she is prepared for the case when the number is called over a speaker and posted on flat-screen monitors posted throughout the room. Clients taken into back areas for interviews no longer crowd into open cubicles with a lack of privacy. Instead, now there are individual rooms with several chairs and even toys. Printers and scanners are at workers’ fingertips rather than elsewhere.

Data from the kiosk will also let HSA analyze when the offices have attendance peaks and lows to better schedule the number of workers actually needed at any given time.

Some of the changes seem like common sense. Nobody seemed to know exactly why a confidential drop box inside or after-hours box outside had never before been implemented. Other arose out of visiting similarly sized counties as well as counties that implemented their own renovations to check best practices for ideas. Some they used, some they discard and some they know are a work in progress.

But a common theme through the changes is technology and a new population of users used to downloading their own forms or connecting with answers via computers and smartphones. As part of the redesign, clients can access phone and online services 24 hours a day, seven days a week in multiple languages.

The redesign "represents the future of eligibility and enrollment,” Johnson said at the unveiling.

 Michelle Durand can be reached by email: or by phone: (650) 344-5200 ext. 102.

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