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NBC 10 I-Team: 1 year after UHIP rollout, delays remain at DHS

One year ago on Sept.13, 2016, Rhode Island's Department of Human Services rolled out a new computer system known as UHIP. But instead of improving performance, glitches in the software cut off crucial social service benefits like food stamps, healthcare, child care subsidies and nursing home payments to thousands of vulnerable Rhode Islanders. (WJAR)

One year ago on Sept.13, 2016, Rhode Island's Department of Human Services rolled out a new computer system known as UHIP.

But instead of improving performance, glitches in the software cut off crucial social service benefits like food stamps, healthcare, child care subsidies and nursing home payments to thousands of vulnerable Rhode Islanders.

At the height of the crisis in January 2017, the backlog of cases in the DHS system topped 14,000. By August, the total backlog had been reduced to 3,734, according to state figures.

Yet, waiting times inside field offices remain high, at an average of 82 minutes in August. That’s almost as high as the 85-minute average in October 2016, just after clients saw benefits cut off.

The department’s new director, Courtney Hawkins, sat down with the NBC 10 I-Team after taking over at DHS just a few weeks ago.

"It's completely heartbreaking,” Hawkins said of the crisis.

Clients like Marlene Senerchia of West Warwick are hoping for a turnaround at DHS, once and for all.

Senerchia has stacks of paperwork she’s sent to DHS time and time again since December 2016, when her food stamp benefits were suddenly cut off. She still qualifies, but nine months later, she continues to wait for help.

"I think it's frustrating,” Senerchia said.

At the same time her food stamp benefits stopped, Senerchia also lost health insurance coverage through Health Source RI. Both problems were due to glitches in the UHIP rollout.

"To me it was, choose one. Choose being on hold. Choose trying to fix either health care coverage, or the extra benefits, all at the same time,” she said.

Six months later, her health insurance was finally straightened out. But still no food stamps.

"I would like some resources, or accountability, instead of saying that everything is fixed, everything is under control," ,” Senerchia said.

So, how did her case fall through the cracks?

"That is completely unacceptable,” Hawkins said when asked about the delays.

The director also acknowledged that some clients may have given up trying, although they are entitled to food stamps and other benefits.

"It is probably true that there are people who have given up trying to get benefits, and they may be sitting as pending applications, for example,” Hawkins said.

As the backlog topped 14,00 in January, Gov. Gina Raimondo said she’d finally had enough. Former DHS Director Melba Depena, former Secretary of Health and Human Services Elizabeth Roberts and former Chief Digital Officer Thom Guertin, were all forced to resign.

Hawkins told NBC 10 this week that DHS has made major progress since then, although she stressed there’s still work to be done.

“People ask me all the time what level of backlog I'll be comfortable with or what I would expect, and the answer I always give is zero,” she said.

Hawkins also told NBC 10 that DHS continues to put pressure on Deloitte, the vendor responsible for designing and implementing the UHIP software. She said Deloitte is updating the system multiple times each month.

In January, Raimondo cut off payments to the company and said at the time that no further payments would be made until the problems were fixed. DHS spokesperson Alisha Pina confirmed on Wednesday that no payments have been made to Deloitte since December 2016, although the company has submitted $11.5 million worth of invoices to Rhode Island. The state and the company remain in negotiations, Pina said.




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