The coming of a pandemic has not made for a lack of work for Morrison County office support staff in the Social Services and Public Health departments.
Though phone and foot traffic slowed — a trend that continues, to a lesser degree, now — employees were kept busy in ways ranging from organizing produce drops to helping other departments.
Social Services Office Services Supervisor Theresa Stout said the first of two produce drops held in May 2020 yielded 801 calls between the two agencies, while a second brought in 734. That project required the staff to create a form containing information on callers that was used to determine their eligibility for the program, along with any specific instructions for a safe, no-contact delivery.
“We found that, through some diligent work looking into different software, that we could actually save a lot of staff time,” Stout said.
Perhaps the biggest undertaking for Public Health during the past year was scheduling and planning for vaccine clinics. Through June, Morrison County had hosted 35 clinics. Public Health employees scheduled a total of 2,314 appointments between people getting the first and second dose of the vaccine.
Supervisor Fran Dosh said the county’s IT Department was instrumental in helping her staff complete this major undertaking.
“We had numerous calls and a lot of frequent changes; sometimes even daily,” Dosh said. “Things would change as to which groups of residents were eligible to get the vaccine, so we were constantly letting the front desk staff know who they could add to their list. It really helped that the Public Health phones rolled over to the Social Services phones so that everyone could be involved and we could get numerous calls through.”
Along with helping Public Health take calls regarding COVID-19 and the vaccination clinics, Social Services staff also lent a hand to the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) to help it eliminate a backlog in calls for service due to the pandemic. Stout said, between June 15, 2020, and Nov. 6, 2020, they took an average of 42 DMV calls per day, with only 40 a day coming in for Social Services purposes.
Stout said they received good feedback from the public, as well as from DMV staff members. She added that it was a good growth opportunity for Social Services staffers to learn and work in a new software program.
“That’s one thing that I really appreciate about Morrison County; that when there is a need, everybody steps up and takes care of that,” said County Administrator Deb Gruber. “There wasn’t even a second guess when I said, ‘Hey, can you help?’ They all said, ‘Absolutely.’ That says a lot to staff and it says a lot to leadership.”
Meanwhile, calls regarding COVID kept Public Health front office staffers on their toes. Dosh said about 44% of the calls her office received from March 2020 through July 2, 2021, were in reference to the coronavirus. The other 56% leaned heavily toward calls about WIC and environmental health.
In all, the Public Health Office averaged about 16 per day, down from 22 and 21, respectively, during the previous two years. Numbers have started to creep back up in 2021, with 19 calls per day being the average, so far.
“As well, the average number of clients visiting the Public Health front desk were also considerably down, especially for 2020 because of being closed and not doing the in-person visits,” Dosh said. “All of WIC was done via telephone. It’s really down. It still continues to be down in 2021 because we still do not do in-person WIC, which hopefully will change by the end of the year.”
One other project the Social Services Office was able to tackle during the pandemic was imaging all of its sealed adoption files. Stout said it was an initiative that had been on the department’s “back-burner” for quite a while. Down time during COVID afforded them the opportunity to get that completed.
There were a total of 525 sealed adoption documents, which were scanned and filed digitally. Previously, they were stored in paper form in locked cabinets. Stout added that, with the help of IT and the electronic management system, ISC, they were able to ensure those files will be secure in their new, digital format.
“Fragile original paper documents and photographs were imaged and will no longer age and become brittle,” she said. “The paper has been shredded, the file cabinets have been sold in the county auction or repurposed by other county departments and floor space has been freed up.”
The documents are kept forever, and Stout said some of those imaged dated back to the 1930s.
Phone calls to the Social Services front desk in 2020 actually increased from previous years, going from an average of 36 per day in 2019 to 48 last year. That number has dropped back off to 29 so far in 2021. The amount of office visits per day followed the same pattern.
Stout said much of that is due to waivers by the state. People are not needing to check verification or inquire about eligibility. That trend is likely to end by Aug. 31, when most of those waivers will have ended.
“We are seeing an increase as some of the waivers have ended,” Stout said. “Many of them are ending and people are becoming a little more concerned about the status of their cases, so we are seeing more people who come in and request to see a worker.”