NC FAST underway

Published 10:36 am Wednesday, August 29, 2012

GATESVILLE – There’s always a faster and better way to meet the mission of a service-oriented program.

Such will be the case of how Department of Social Services offices statewide handle the daily grind of sorting through mountains of paperwork.

To the rescue is NC FAST (North Carolina Families Accessing Services through Technology). It’s a program designed to improve the way the NC Department of Health and Human Services and county departments of social services do business by introducing new technological tools and business processes that will enable workers to spend less time on administrative tasks and more time assisting families.

“This is the beginning of what will become a fully automated system going throughout all of the services we provide,” said Gates County DSS Director Geoffrey Marett. “It will begin in our Food and Nutrition Services (FNS) program.”

Gates County DSS staffers who either take FNS applications or involved in that one area of the overall services offered are currently engaged in a three-week training period to learn how the FAST program works.

Marett said the implementation of the FAST program will come in stages, starting first with the application process.

“We’re in the midst of a soft launch of the program, where we’ll take the applications through the FAST system, but we’ll still have the old way of performing that task still active,” he said. “Then there’s two versions of a hard launch. We’ll be working with the state to cut off the old way of taking these applications. That will take place, at a minimum, over the next two months.”

Gates County DSS will monitor their progress with the hard launch, as will state officials.

“Once we feel comfortable with moving forward with the other processes – such as reviews, changes and recertification – we’ll enter version two of the hard launch, which eventually will lead us to use the same FAST program to take Medicaid applications early next year,” Marett noted.

As is with any new program or the way services are offered, Marett wanted to ensure that Gates County citizens using DSS programs will not see any change in their actual services.

“Policies are not changing; eligibility requirements are not changing….what is changing is the way we take applications and administer these services on our end,” Marett stressed.

“We’re getting away from paper and going towards digitalization,” said Sandra Rountree, who serves Gates County DSS as its Income Maintenance Supervisor. “Hopefully once this new system is implemented it will be easier on everybody.”

Rountree added that once a DSS client’s information is placed in the system, all other DSS programs have access to that info.

“There will be an adjustment phase for everyone involved,” Marett said. “We’ve got a new system to learn, to include how we place that information into the system. You may see the process take a little longer at the outset until we have the opportunity to master the new way of doing things.

“In the end this will become an extremely efficient system, but until we get to that point we’re asking our clients to be patient with us,” he added. “In the end, NC FAST cuts down significantly the time involved in taking applications for any of our income-driven services. It also cuts down on the time it takes for the review process for these programs.”

Following the training session, Gates County DSS staff will “soft launch” the program by Sept. 13.

Rountree reminded DSS clients who may call in and ask for their social worker, they may be switched to another worker because of that employee being involved in taking an NC FAST application.

“This will eventually work itself out as we become more familiar with this new program,” Rountree said. “It may take a couple of months due to the learning curve with NC FAST.”

It is not required of FNS clients currently enrolled in that program to reapply. DSS staff will convert current client information into the FAST program.

“Overall, this changes how we’ve done business in the past, but it’s a change for the good,” Marett remarked. “It better benefits our clients and our DSS personnel.”

He added that due to implementing a new program of this magnitude, there may be some initial glitches.

“If you notice any change or you are having any complications, please report those to us so that corrections can be made in order for the benefits to be given in a timely manner,” Marett said.

About Cal Bryant

Cal Bryant, a 40-year veteran of the newspaper industry, serves as the Editor at Roanoke-Chowan Publications, publishers of the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald, Gates County Index, and Front Porch Living magazine.

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