DSHS Community Services Offices return to full in-person services
OLYMPIA — After hearing feedback from customers, community advocates and staff about the challenges Washingtonians faced throughout the COVID-19 pandemic in accessing vital public services like food, cash and medical assistance, the Department of Social and Health Services reopened its Community Services Offices to full in-person services on Monday, Feb. 28. Nearly all CSOs opened their doors to on-demand, walk-in services that day; others will reopen as soon as they are able to do so safely.
The reopening comes with the full support and encouragement of Governor Jay Inslee and Secretary Jilma Meneses. The Washington State Legislature also passed a bill on March 8, 2022, supporting the efforts while building in additional accountability for the agency.
“It is imperative that DSHS remove as many barriers as possible to providing all Washingtonians vital access to services in order to meet their most basic human needs,” explained Meneses, who was appointed secretary of the state’s largest agency in January. “We must meet people wherever they are, whether that is online, over the phone or in person.”
The agency’s Community Services Division, which operates the CSOs, continues to offer all virtual services that were provided during the pandemic response, through washingtonconnection.org and the Customer Service Contact Center.
Staff worked quickly and diligently to implement the necessary changes to work processes, policies, procedures and information technology systems for almost 2,500 employees while simultaneously preparing office spaces for the safe support of increased in-person service capacity. Teams from other areas of the agency, including security staff from Western State Hospital and public benefits specialists from the Home and Community Services division of the Aging and Long-Term Support Administration, have pitched in to help with the safe reopening as well. Staff will continue to improve business processes and modernize technology in order to improve access to services going forward.
“The services we provide are essential to the well-being of our communities,” said Babs Roberts, director of the Community Services Division. “It is a privilege to serve with such a competent, passionate, committed team of professionals who deliver services virtually and in person, on the front lines as well as in critical infrastructure and support functions.”
CSOs opened on Nov. 15, 2021 for limited, by-appointment services as part of the agency’s Roadmap to Recovery return-to-work plan, and much of that planning — facility preparation, health and safety measures, etc. — served as a foundation for the quick shift to pre-pandemic service availability.
During the COVID-19 state of emergency, DSHS continues to follow Washington state’s Roadmap to Recovery, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and Department of Health guidelines to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 when people come to CSOs. This includes requirements for self-screening against COVID-19 symptoms, signing in, social distancing and use of personal protective equipment.