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New disability support management system expected to hamper client service: OPSEU

We the North
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TORONTO – Ontario’s new caseload management system for recipients of provincial disability assistance will increase wait times, result in more underpayments/overpayments and could result in payment suspensions for qualified individuals.

Warren (Smokey) Thomas, President of the Ontario Public Service Employees Union who represents caseworkers at the Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP), says the new computer system which will implement Nov. 12, 2014, will actually degrade service to clients whose lives depend on it.

“The government has spent four years and $250 million dollars on a system that is less reliable, makes it more difficult to add information, and results in workers spending less time with clients and more time doing repetitive data entry,” Thomas said. “This amount of time and money should improve services, not make them worse.”

Thomas went on to say that caseworkers and support staff have not been adequately trained on the new system, and the additional workload will cause significant stress on a service that is already understaffed to begin with. “Our members have not been given the tools to succeed with the new Social Assistance Management System. Many of the training sessions were either filled with technical errors or provided irrelevant information. Most were expected to learn the system on their own time.”

Thomas cites one instance where it would take 73 separate computer actions just to add a dependent child on a client’s file.

“Instead of meeting with clients to address their needs and concerns, they will spend the majority of their time inputting data into an unwieldy and unfriendly computer system,” Thomas said. “We have written to the Minister and had multiple meetings to address the shortcomings, most have which have fallen on deaf ears,” Thomas said. “Whoever designed the system was certainly not putting clients’ and workers’ needs first. Sadly, those who will be the most disadvantaged by this will be the ones who have the least ability to protect themselves. Our members will do their best to help, but will likely find themselves mired in a system designed by programmers and implemented by bureaucrats.”

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For more information:

Warren (Smokey) Thomas 1-800-268-7376

Roxanne Barnes (416) 809-2791

Backgrounder – Social Assistance Management System (SAMS)

Key Details:

  • To be implemented on November 12.
  • The program has been in development since 2010. It is intended to replace the current caseload management system used in the Ministry of Community and Social Services by ODSP caseworkers.
  • To date the project has cost $250 million (confirmed to OPSEU in August 13, 2014 letter from Minister Helena Jaczek)
  • OPSEU has expressed its concerns with the system throughout the development process. The union has written to the Minister and we have had multiple discussions with the employer.
  • The employer has relied upon volunteerism from OPSEU members to learn the system. Members have been expected to take time in their day to learn the program by using a user guide and participating in webinars.
  • Most caseworkers are uncomfortable with the program and feel that they have not been given the tools to succeed. The employer believes that it has heard the concerns and done its best to prepare every caseworker.

Client impact

It will take longer for caseworkers to make changes/update client’s files.

  • Changes to files can impact entitlements.
  • This will result in more under-payments and over-payments.
  • This will also result in more suspend letters.

There will be a downgrade in the quality of service.

  • It will be more difficult for client’s to get appointments with their caseworker.
  • It will take longer to get owed money (under-payments, special diet allowance, incontinence supplies, etc.).

It will take longer for new applicants to get approved for ODSP.

  • Currently individuals are told to expect to be at an ODSP office for 1.5 to 2 hours when applying for ODSP. Caseworkers can use SDMT to provide rough estimates of entitlements.
  • SAMS requires significantly more information to start a client file which will mean applicants can expect to spend the day an ODSP office.
  • SAMS cannot provide entitlement estimates.

Worker impact

  • Lower productivity – significantly more time and effort will be required to complete job requirements.
  • Fear of falling behind will lead to higher stress levels.
  • Decline in service quality and increased risk of overpayments/underpayments will lead to client frustration.