Whether you are managing a jail, probation clients or providing agency services, looking at the “whole” person has never been more important: to understand who that person is, what the challenges are that they are facing, and how best to help them accomplish their goals in life; whether that’s staying off drugs, complying with their probation requirements, or simply just taking care of their legal challenges.
Washington State’s Veterans Affairs Department knows these challenges.
- The Veterans Affairs Department’s approach for identifying requirements and selecting an implementation approach,
- How they are revisiting their business processes to ensure they fully leverage their new technical capabilities, and
- Where they are going in the coming years as they continue to expand their implementation.
Justice Clearinghouse Editors (JCH): When you talk about “Person-Based” or “Person-Centered” Case Management” can you define that? Help us understand what that includes/means?
Steven Gill: Person-Based Case Management, also known as client-centered case management, is a case management model that puts the client in the center and keeps the focus on them. The goal is to eliminate the silo effect of different departments or agencies in order to improve individual outcomes for clients. In our case, we are talking about veterans and their families, many of whom have recently transitioned out of the military and who may be seeking assistance with obtaining employment, housing, health care, or assistance with applying for their veterans benefits.
JCH: Set the stage for us in preparation for your webinar. Can you share with us what the process was like in terms of moving the Washington State Department of Veterans Affairs to this approach? What was the impetus or business case?
Steven: The Washington State Department of Veterans Affairs Veteran Services and Behavioral Health Division has 20 separate programs and services that serve veterans and their families. At least 15 of these programs and services track client-level data such as clients names, addresses, and military service history, yet each of these programs and services was collecting and maintaining client data separately. There was no way to view a client across the range of programs and services that we provide. Case Managers could not see what other programs and services a client might be enrolled in and what their case plans were so there was duplicate effort and our Case Managers were not able to collaborate very effectively. The need to improve this was the business case for moving forward with a client-centered case management system using modern customer relationship management technology.
Technology can go a long way toward addressing a lot of these things
but it cannot solve everything.
Steven Gill, Washington State Department of Veterans Affairs
JCH: There’s an old saying “you don’t know what you don’t know.” Moving to a more holistic, person-centric process makes a lot of sense. But what do you wish you knew prior to moving to this management process that you didn’t necessarily know when you first started?
Steven: What I didn’t necessarily know when we first started this project was the extent to which are various programs and services were using data, whether it was client level data or analytical data regarding our business processes. Frontline case managers and supervisors knew how to provide quality case management services on an individual level but it was extremely difficult to obtain analytics of our work in order to inform management decisions and allocate resources.
JCH: Technology is amazing – but sometimes staff can struggle with accepting major technology implementations – particularly when it means having to learn how to do things differently. How has your staff adapted to the new platform? Is there anything you would have done differently? What advice might you have for managing such major changes with teams?
Steven: Addressing the organizational change management aspect of our project was critically important. Although we have a relatively small team of about 50 people, all who are end-users of this technology, this includes everyone from front line employees to executive leadership. There were lots of different needs and expectations, but the bottom line was that this technology had to allow case managers to do their work, ideally improving their ability to work, otherwise the technology was of limited value.
The good news was that our team was ready to embrace this technology. They were actually asking for it because they knew our agency had an opportunity to do better. There was already a culture of continuous improvement and exceptional customer service. What was needed was the technology to bring these things together. However, there were some struggles because we were changing the way that people did their work. The key to addressing these struggles was to create ownership and buy-in by allowing those who might struggle with the change to be part of the implementation team, listening to their needs and understanding their work so that it translated into a system that worked for them individually, but that also worked for the team of 50.
JCH: How has your background helped to prepare you to implement this kind of organizational change?
Steven: The key to the success of this project was the diverse experience and skills of the implementation team. It was a total team effort from our executive leadership, to our senior managers, our program managers and supervisors, our case managers and front desk staff, and our project manager, business analyst, quality assurance consultant, and ultimately our technology vendor. Everyone was committed to the project and believed in the mission but that didn’t happen by accident.
We spent a lot of time early in the project building the team, bringing in people with commitment and inspiring a shared vision. My own background includes over 10 years of experience with the agency, from working the front desk as a receptionist to being a client case manager, a program manager, and ultimately a senior manager. In-between I also gained experience with a technology company that built human resources information systems for federal government agencies so I have been through a few technology implementation projects from the vendors perspective.
The goal is to eliminate the silo effect of different departments or agencies
in order to improve individual outcomes for clients.
Steven Gill, Washington State Department of Veterans Affairs
JCH: Person-centered case management processes can be applied to a lot of situations throughout the justice arena – probation, community management, court cases, etc. What advice would you have to anyone thinking about implementing a process like what you’ve done with the Washington Department of Veterans Affairs?
Steven: Start from the client’s perspective and work backward. Ask how you can improve individual outcomes from the client’s point of view. Then ask how can you improve the case managers’ work from their perspective. Then ask what supervisors and managers need. Ultimately, ask what senior managers and executive leaders need.
Ask people what their pain points are and what can be done to improve those things. Technology can go a long way toward addressing a lot of these things but it cannot solve everything, so the next step is to agree on what you are trying to improve through technology and have a clear vision for the project, and continuously communicate that vision.