This is a photo of DSS Commissioner Roderick L. Bremby and George Chamberlin, who runs the benefits centers
DSS Commissioner Roderick L. Bremby, left Arielle Levin Becker / The CT Mirror
This is a picture of Social Services Commissioner Roderick L. Bremby.
DSS Commissioner Roderick L. Bremby. Arielle Levin Becker / The CT Mirror

The commissioner of the state Department of Social Services says his agency is increasing staff at its call center to reduce long wait times.

Commissioner Roderick L. Bremby wrote about the increase in staffing in a letter to a group of Medicaid advocates, providers, and clients who recently penned a letter to the commissioner demanding action.

“Notwithstanding these inaccurate descriptions of the Department’s access options and processes, the Department also understands that long wait times are deeply frustrating to those who need to contact a worker and prefer to use the telephone,” said Bremby in the letter.

The DSS system for handling clients’ calls has been under scrutiny since it was implemented five years ago to improve service. The old system relied on each client reaching a specific worker, who kept case information in paper files.

Wait times at the call center have been inconsistent over the years. According to DSS data from February 2014 to this June, the wait times have ranged from less than 10 minutes to more than 100 minutes.

This June, the average wait time was 85 minutes. In March, it was 107 minutes; April, 105; and May, 96.

People call the center for help with health care coverage, food stamps and other public benefit programs.

In their June 28 letter, the 44 signatories called on DSS to produce a plan for getting to, and staying at, an average call wait time of 10 minutes or less.

Sheldon Toubman, one of the signatories and an attorney at New Haven Legal Assistance Association, said that Bremby’s letter doesn’t respond to that request.

The June 28 letter also said, as delays persisted, DSS claimed that replacing EMS with ImpaCT —  the department’s computerized eligibility management system — would resolve the delays in processing and other DSS service issues.

Bremby summarized the agency’s roll-out of ImpaCT, which began in October 2016.

“During this transition period, DSS eligibility workers had to learn an entirely new system … ” he wrote. “A single phone call received during the past year and a half could require workers to move through three systems in order to resolve a client issue.

“While technology advancement is not itself a panacea and can result in temporary challenges, it is short-sighted and inaccurate to vilify it as the problem,” he said.

Bremby invited representatives of the advocates’ letter to meet with DSS staff during the week of July 23. Toubman said they will attend that meeting.

This chart was part of a presentation given by DSS in March.
This chart was part of a presentation given by DSS in March. Department of Social Services

Mackenzie is a former health reporter at CT Mirror. Prior to her time at CT Mirror, she covered health care, social services and immigration for the News-Times in Danbury and has more than a decade of reporting experience. She traveled to Uganda for the News-Times to report an award-winning five-part series about a Connecticut doctor's experience in Africa. A native of upstate New York, she started her journalism career at The Recorder in Greenfield, Mass., and worked at Newsday on Long Island for three years. She is a graduate of the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, where she wrote her master's thesis about illegal detentions in Haiti's women's prison.

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