Morrison County Social Services Director Brad Vold and Information Technology (IT) Director Amy Middendorf intend to bring forward a capital request at the May 4, Morrison County Board of Commissioners meeting to pay for new text messaging software.

The service, called Tango, would allow county employees to receive text messages from clients without having to give out their personal cellphone numbers. Because the software integrates with the county’s current phone system, anyone can send a text message to the employee’s county-issued direct desk number and they will receive it on their computer. When the employee responds, it will be sent from their desk number.

The one-time cost to install and set up the system is $2,857. There would also be an annual cost of about $100 per user. As such, only employees with customer-facing, client-based jobs would be text enabled.

“I just think it’s something that we need to — as an organization — invest in,” Vold said. “It creates uniformity as we work with clients.”

The capital request will be for $7,657.14 to cover the installation and setup along with service for 50 employees.

“Social Services would pay for it, but it would be across Social Services and Public Health, as well as other departments would be able to use it,” Vold said. “We did bring it to a department head meeting last week or the week before and I think there are some other departments that have a need for texting their clients.”

Vold and Middendorf said this has been a topic of discussion for at least two years now. The main reason they feel it is necessary is so county employees don’t feel the need to give out their personal information to clients in order to text with them, as well as to adapt to how many clients prefer to communicate.

Middendorf said it will typically only be used for quick communication, such as appointment reminders or to ask clients to bring certain materials to a meeting. It can also be used to improve efficiency.

“If I’m a social worker and I’m going to meet with you at your home and now you’re not there, I have to figure out how to get ahold of you, where are you, when are you available, reschedule, do this, do that — or you don’t show up at the office,” she said. “It’s just, the turnover of our clients is changing and the way they communicate has changed, so I feel like the organization kind of has to evolve to — how do we best work with our clients?”

Currently, outside of the Sheriff’s Office, county employees do not have a county-issued cellphone. Instead, they receive a monthly stipend if they use their personal cellphone for county business. Their individual desk lines, like most landlines, do not receive text messages in their current state.

The reason for bringing the topic to the Board at a planning session, they said, is because a 30-day trial is available on the software. Middendorf said to set it up even for a demo would be a bit intrusive, so Vold wanted to make sure the Board was open to the idea before taking that step.

Middendorf said it will also help protect employee privacy.

“If I want to text a client, let’s say I’m dealing with a mental health client I don’t know, do I want them to always have my personal cellphone number, even when I leave this organization?” she said. “They still have my personal cellphone number. This way we don’t need to advertise people’s cellphone numbers. We can advertise my number that lives and stays in the organization.”

Not all of the Board members were in favor of implementing the system. Commissioner Randy Winscher said he felt the whole idea was “overkill.”

“It seems like when people call, what did they do last year?” he said. “What did they do 10 years ago? They called in, left a message, you call them back. I don’t know. It’s not a big dollar amount, but I look at this, pretty soon we spend this, we spend this, then it starts becoming a large amount. I just have a hard time stomaching this. Is it a want or a need?”

Vold said it was a need. He said implementing the Tango system would help “create boundaries” between clients and staff so that they’re not always in communication.

He said the information stored in the system would also allow supervisors to go in and check on employees if “something happens.” He said they can go in and see who they’ve been talking with and follow up accordingly.

“Yes, we have been getting along but, again, staff have created their own solutions that may or may not be what we want them to use from a data practices and HIPAA-compliant requirement,” Vold said. “That’s, I think, the challenge we now face.

“We have been getting by, but I worry about what getting by has looked like,” he added.

Board Chair Mike Wilson asked Vold to bring the issue back to the Board’s regular meeting, May 4, for more discussion and for a vote on whether or not the Board wants to move forward.

Board of Commissioners Briefs:

In other business Tuesday, the Morrison County Board of Commissioners:

• Heard from County IT Director Amy Middendorf that the new uninterruptible power supply (UPS) system she had budgeted for came in under budget and she is moving forward with the purchase. Middendorf had budgeted $27,000 for replacement of the current UPS system, which is more than 30 years old;

• Received an update from the Lake Shamineau Lake Improvement District (LID) on the water pumping project. Morrison County partnered with the LID to help fund the project to alleviate high water and flooding problems on the lake.

The next steps include engineering work, an environmental assessment, completing an operations plan and continuing a petition process with Todd County for use of Todd County Ditch 41;

• Approved a request from Public Health Director Brad Vold to advertise on Facebook to fill two positions on the Public Health Advisory Board;

• Approved a request from Jail Administrator Scott MacKissock to submit paperwork to the state to accept a biannual Sentence to Serve Grant; and

• Heard a request from Auditor/Treasurer Chelsey Robinson to temporarily move a current part-time employee in the Department of Motor Vehicles to full-time, to help keep up with higher-than-normal volume.

The next meeting of the Board of Commissioners is at 9 a.m. Tuesday, May 4, in the Board Room at the Morrison County Government Center.

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