Glitches in new software installed by the state of Colorado are causing some La Plata County residents to receive medical, financial and food assistance weeks, and sometimes months, late.
Martha Johnson, director of La Plata County’s Department of Human Services, said the department has used a database called the “Colorado Benefits Management System,” or CBMS for short, for years to determine if a resident is eligible for benefits.
Typically, a resident who seeks food, financial or medical benefits will come into the county’s DHS office and their pertinent information – such as demographics, income, etc. – is entered into the CBMS database, which in turn, calculates whether they qualify for benefits.
The old CBMS, Johnson said, worked well from the staff’s point of view, but state officials recently decided to update the 15-year-old system to make it more compatible with updated technology.
On Aug. 26, Johnson said the new software was installed, and then crashed the entire day.
“So we lost an entire day of work,” she said.
Around noon Aug. 27, the system was back up, but it worked only sporadically. Johnson said that ever since, the new software is prone to unpredictable crashes and glitches, and it’s causing work to pile up.
For example, when someone applies for benefits, the county’s DHS has to start an online process to file an application. Last week, Johnson said that part of the software wasn’t working at all, so people who came in to apply for benefits couldn’t get the process started.
On Friday, the part of the new system where DHS staff members enter a person’s information and determine eligibility wasn’t working.
“That’s been one of the major challenges with the system,” Johnson said. “On different days, different pieces don’t work. And it’s causing a lot of delays for our community citizens to access their benefits. Sometimes, we can’t just do the work.”
A spokesman with Colorado’s Department of Human Services deferred all questions about the software glitches to the Colorado Governor’s Office of Information Technology. A spokeswoman with that department was getting information as of Friday afternoon..
Johnson said the state is constantly working on the issues, but that doesn’t do much good for county residents who may need food or medical assistance immediately.
The county’s DHS was already suffering with a backlog because of staffing issues, namely high turnover, and a dwindling budget.
Unlike other county departments, the services that Human Services provide are mandated by the state and federal government. As a result, the state covers about 80% of the department’s $6 million operating budget.
But La Plata County struggles to cover the cost of the remaining 20%, which has ripple effects on the department and, in turn, the county’s most vulnerable populations.
About 10% of the population – or 5,500 people – in La Plata County lives in poverty. Johnson said there are more than 6,600 households with Medicaid assistance and about 1,860 households that use the food-assistance program.
With the added complications from the new software, Johnson said people who received benefits, but need their application renewed, might have to wait two to three months.
“Which is really terrible for people,” she said.
Johnson said new staff members are being hired and trained to help catch up on the workload. Current employees are working overtime. Once the software issues are fixed, the county’s DHS should be able to reduce the backlog, though Johnson said she was informed by the state there is no timeline for the fixes.
“We know it’s very difficult for people right now,” she said. “We are really doing all we can to deal with the backlog … but we know that doesn’t help in the moment when people are relying on those benefits.”