Summit County Human Services one of eight statewide to receive commendation | SummitDaily.com

Summit County Human Services one of eight statewide to receive commendation

The awards just kept on flowing on Thursday as state officials came to honor the Summit County Human Services Department for being one of the best-performing in the state.

Reggie Bicha, executive director of the Colorado Department of Human Services, had made the trip up from Denver to commend Summit for being one of only eight counties in the state to exceed rigorous standards for timely processing of food and cash assistance claims.

El Paso, Garfield, Mesa, Pueblo, Arapahoe, Logan and Sedgwick counties also passed muster.

"We wanted to come up and say thank you for the work you do each and every day," Bicha told the gathering of human services employees. "Not just for the people of Summit County, but for the ripple effect it has on all of the state's 64 counties. Don't tell me it can't be done, because they're doing it in Summit County."

In the past, Colorado's processing of benefits claims was, to put it charitably, lousy. Riven with bureaucratic inefficiencies at the state level, timely processing was so bad that it led to a lawsuit in 2004 and a settlement three years later that required benefits providers to shape up.

Specifically, that meant processing benefits in a timely manner at least 95 percent of the time for at least 12 consecutive months. That was a lofty target given what rates were like at the time: new food assistance applications went through on time in 70 percent of cases, while other types of assistance ranged in the mid-40s.

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"This is a very big deal," County Commissioner Thomas Davidson said. "The type of work these people do is very, very hard. There are a lot of counties that complain that the bar is set too high."

Summit isn't one of those. The county's performance, along with the seven others who made the cut, was enough to help the state meet the benchmark set by the 2004 lawsuit.

"As of January 2017, we are no longer under federal court order," Bicha said. "Only eight counties met that 12 month consistent criteria, and Summit County was one of those. We couldn't get out of that court order without people like you doing what you're doing every day."

In recognition for their performance, the Summit Human Services Department employees were given C-Stat awards, named for the statistical performance management system put in place by CDHS in 2007 to monitor the state's progress on compliance with the court order.

On Thursday, Bicha presented a slideshow demonstrating just how far the state — and Summit, in particular — has come on those measures, which started low in 2007 but erratically made their way up to the top of the chart.

That change has a lot to do with the hard work of rank-and-file employees, Bicha said, but was also aided by an overhaul of policies and procedures at the state level.

That included measures like streamlining different benefits programs onto the same timelines and providing better training for the computer programs used to process them.

Ultimately, however, the emphasis on Thursday was on the county-level employees.

"Nine months ago, I inherited an awesome department, and these measures equate to exceptional customer service," said assistant county manager Sarah Vaine, who oversees human services. "I couldn't be more proud of our team, because they do great work every day and because they really care about our community members."

Human Services director Joanne Sprouse, who has served in the department for nearly 30 years, echoed that sentiment, crediting the high scores to the dedication of her employees.

"This quantitative data is so important, but what I love is the qualitative aspect," she said. "When I walk past these people and I can see the work they're doing, it's just incredible."