LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (News release) — The Arkansas Department of Human Services (DHS) plans to re-organize county offices and create a new business processing center in the Delta in the next 8 to 42 months to better fit the needs of clients and how they interact with the Department now and in the future. The resulting changes will reduce the number of county offices by four, end leases on two county office annexes, and upgrade, expand, or move five other offices to accommodate high client traffic flows or need for improved office conditions.
The changes announced Monday are the result of a several month review by DHS’s divisions of County Operations, Children and Family Services, Youth Services, Child Care and Early Childhood Education, Developmental Disabilities Services, Aging, Adult, and Behavioral Health Services as well as the offices of the Secretary, Finance, Information Technology, and Procurement. The goal of the review was to ensure that the location of county offices matches where clients or potential clients are located.
“DHS remains committed to having at least one county office in every county, but it has been years since we looked at our footprint in the state to determine whether we have the right amount of staff in the right places to best serve our clients,” said DHS Secretary Cindy Gillespie. “We’ve taken a deep dive into the data and found locations where we should move staff and areas where we should make some re-investments.”
During the review, Department staff reviewed data that showed the state’s population broken down by county, where each of DHS’s 85 county offices is located, where potential clients live in relation to those offices, and where active clients live in relation to those offices. They found that some counties with more than one office had low client counts compared to similar counties with only one office. For example, Arkansas County, which has offices in DeWitt and Stuttgart, had about 6,700 clients last year. Sevier, Polk, Drew, Yell, and Sharp counties have similar client counts and serve them with one office each. Meanwhile, Washington County has a large client count but little room to expand to accommodate the growing client population.
The Department-wide team reviewed the data and recommended to Secretary Gillespie that the following changes be made in two phases. The first phase will begin some time after the new year with the goal of having all moves completed in either June or December 2020, depending on location. In all cases but one, the recommendations that Secretary Gillespie approved move staff to offices closest to most clients. The Booneville office was too small to accommodate additional staff, so the recommendation was to move to the Paris office. Below are the phase one changes:
- Move three staff from a county annex office into the Baxter County office by the end of June 2020.
- Move eight staff from a county annex office to the Sebastian County office by the end of June 2020.
- Move all staff from the DeWitt office in Arkansas County to the Stuttgart office (also Arkansas County) and end our lease in DeWitt by the end of December 2020.
- Move all staff from the Clarendon office in Monroe County to the Brinkley office (also Monroe County) and end our lease in Clarendon by the end of December 2020.
- Move all staff in the Boonville office in Logan County to the Paris office (also Logan County) and/or the Booneville Human Development Center by the end of December 2020.
- Move all staff from the Osceola office in Mississippi County to the Blytheville office (also Mississippi County) by the end of December 2020.
The office moves are expected to reduce leasing and utility costs by $246,500 a year, some of which DHS plans to re-invest in the phase two projects outlined below. The detailed plans for implementing these changes along with the final costs will be available by the end of the phase one moves.
- Open a new business processing center in Osceola, hopefully at the same location as the current county office. The business processing center would process online applications and other documentation that comes in through www.access.arkansas.gov that don’t require in-person client interviews. This is expected to be open by June 2021 and employ about 50 people. The facility will be staffed using existing positions that will be relocated when they become available in other parts of the state.
- Upgrade, expand, or move offices in Washington, Jefferson, Pulaski, Lonoke, and Faulkner counties due to the conditions of existing buildings or the high client counts in the current locations. These upgrades and moves will be made between March 2021 and June 2023.
At this time, all the offices mentioned above remain open and available to clients. Clients in those areas will be notified in advance of the moves and where they need to go to seek assistance once the moves happen.