Friday, May 13, 2011

DSHS still has plans to close South Bend: Come to the Meeting

Please Don’t Ignore Monday’s DSHS Community Meeting

Please AttendCommunity Meeting regarding closure of the South Bend Community Services Office (DSHS) in South Bend, WA 
Monday, May 16th, 6:00 PMCommissioners meeting room,Pacific County Annex Building1216 W. Robert Bush DrSouth Bend, WA

The local papers have published the announcement about DSHS authorities coming to South Bend next Monday evening to discuss the proposed closure of the South Bend Community Service Office.
Closing the local DSHS office is a significant event in the life of this community and the impact cannot be overstated.

The consequence of having no local recourse when a phone call to the agency just will not do – or when the call centers are too busy to answer promptly – will be that local residents can either give up trying to get an issue resolved, or they can pay out of pocket to travel to Aberdeen, Long Beach or Chehalis to speak to a live body.

However, such face-to-face interviews are among activities that are currently but unofficially discouraged by the agency which has in place a technology-based objective of convenience and efficiency principally through telephone and internet interaction with its clients.

Residents who are not comfortable with nor possessing computer technology will out of necessity have to attempt some sort of electronic interaction via public internet access sites (such as libraries).  They can also seek satisfaction within the limitations of long-distance telephone calls regarding their medical, food and cash assistance programs – hoping that the voice speaking to them is not pressed for time and not trying to end the conversation as soon as possible.

This is not an issue involving local State workers losing their jobs. They have already been asked which nearby DSHS offices are closest to where they live and would be commuting to work
The irony of this proposal is that residents of small rural communities statewide are suddenly being asked to “take one for the team.”

These small rural counties are being asked to assume  the inconveniences of having their State government remove an office from their midst while the more populated rural areas and urban areas are served in many cases by more than one DSHS office within much less than the 35-mile radius from North Pacific County to Aberdeen, Long Beach or Chehalis.

The reality of DSHS offices in urban areas where transit is available every 30 minutes or every hour means that in most cases those residents have available an almost door-to-door convenience from home to the nearest DSHS office.

But not those who live in North Pacific County.

In North Pacific County residents will need to rely on the two or three  daily round trip bus rides that force residents to plan their entire day around the transit schedule.

Or residents will need to spend non-refundable dollars on private transportation (30 +  miles) to and from
Aberdeen Long Beach or Chehalis  – while most residents in the rest of Washington State will not be digging deep into their pockets to pay for a visit to State government offices.

If in fact DSHS is so desperate to save money by closing offices, would it not make more sense to consolidate urban offices where most residents live with a (30+ mile radius) of more than one DSHS office?

Take, for example, Pierce County where there are 4 offices,   Tacoma is not 35 miles across and even Puyallup is not 35 miles from Tacoma and residents would not be required to go through an equally trying and costly activity to talk in person with a DSHS worker about their case.

The following are pertinent and appropriate questions that need to be asked of the DSHS representatives at the public meeting. Questions should be asked respectfully but with an insistence on honest, open and informative responses from State managers:

(1)     What assumptions were made regarding the North Pacific County Community that would justify closing down the South Bend CSO?

(2) What precisely is the anticipated amount of cost savings to the State if and when the South Bend CSO is closed?

(3) What alternate ways of meeting the anticipated savings were considered and why were they rejected and office closure approved?

(4) Why would the residents of North Pacific County be expected to expend extra time and personal funds to visit a DSHS CSO under conditions that do not exist nor are necessary for other residents in most other areas of the State?

(5)     What is the anticipated economic impact on North Pacific County from the closing of the South Bend CSO? Will residents traveling more frequently out of county spend a greater amount of dollars out of county?

(6) When the 3200+ citizens served by DSHS in North Pacific County travel out of area what will be the economic impact on the community when those citizens purchase food, household items and fuel that would otherwise be purchased locally?

(7)     How much will anticipated expenses in meeting local needs with alternative means such as and including the mobile CSO reduce the anticipated savings?

(8) Bottom line is a simple question: Why is the agency forcing residents of North Pacific County into a circumstance that doesn’t exist for an overwhelming majority of other state residents?

If residents do not challenge the proposed closure of the South Bend CSO, closure decisions are left in the hands of DSHS managers who – having perceived little community interest or investment in keeping the office open, will be free to shut down operations at what might be a moment’s notice.

If residents do not challenge DSHS management and make similar challenges to our elected legislator and community officials, should we not ask ourselves in fact how we are holding our chosen officers accountable for what goes on in our state and community?

It is quite probable that closure of the South Bend Community Service Office as a means and method or reducing the state budget shortage is not only a dangerous short-term decision with very narrow short-term priorities, but that once closed, getting the state to restore and re-open the office could be very difficult or well nigh on impossible.

Travel out of town and out of county to obtain help or resolve case issues will be an unavoidable fact of life – a fact the majority of residents in the rest of the State will not have to face.

A response from the State that this proposal would not even be considered until the lease expires in 2014 does not answer any of the above questions and merely postpones the problem local residents are facing.

It simply means that we need to make ourselves aware that we are being asked to make an unreasonable sacrifice for the rest of the state now …
… or later?

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