Caseworthy: Software aims to cut hassles for Lancaster agencies
Dan Jurman looked at the way Netflix, Amazon and other tech companies gather information and then use algorithms to determine what you might like to buy or read.
The head of the Community Action Partnership in Lancaster County wondered why similar technology couldn’t help match families with the myriad programs designed for people in need.
“They are trying to sell things,” said Jurman, CEO of the anti-poverty group. “We just want to help people.”
People coming into his agency seeking food assistance fill out a set of paperwork, he said. Then, if they want help with child care, they have to go to another office where similar forms ask some of the same questions.
“Everyone has different database sources,” Jurman said. “People would have to do paperwork all over again. Not just here, but the whole system. Why don’t we have a single intake and assessment system, and then we could see everything they qualify for.”
People could be steered to programs they didn’t know existed, and managers could better monitor programs to see what was working, he said.
Jurman, who joined Community Action Partnership in 2015, set out to see what could be done. He knew that the Lancaster County Coalition to End Homelessness had been using software to track clients, a monitoring effort required by the federal government. Agencies that help the homeless can use various software providers but the Lancaster group had been using Caseworthy.
Jurman contacted the Salt Lake City, Utah, company to see if it would be willing to work on a system for use by agencies and nonprofits countywide. Caseworthy agreed, and the project made steady headway. About $600,000 in total has been invested in the project, with an initial $75,000 grant coming from Women United of The United Way of Lancaster County, he said. It took a while to work out the major bugs.
“It’s software, so it is going to do all sorts of funky things,” he said. Eventually, the cost to build such a system should go down, and the hope is that groups using the software will save money by spending less time and money on client intake.
About 30 Lancaster County nonprofits are now using the system, and the United Way has been helping work out lingering bugs as the system is rolled out.
Andrea Heberlein, lead director of community impact for the United Way of Lancaster County, said the Caseworthy project has great promise. However, the agency is not quite in a position to release the program to other groups.
When the time comes, she added, “I definitely feel like we will be a role model for the other United Ways.”
Heberlein and Jurman said there is potential to help groups nationwide. But Jurman is careful about over-selling the software program. He said the hardest part would be getting agencies to agree to try it. The work is intensive, and expensive, and it requires a great deal of cooperation and coordination, he said.
Tim Fatzinger, president and CEO of the United Way of the Capital Region, said he has been following the Lancaster County project with interest. The project might be something for other United Ways to adopt some day, Fatzinger said.
York County also is monitoring the progress, said Kelly Blechertas, program reporting specialist with the York County Planning Commission. Blechertas said York County homeless-advocacy groups use a different system than Caseworthy, but she is familiar with the Utah company’s software.
Lancaster County tends to be on the cutting edge, generally, because of generous grants and other support, as well as high staffing levels at various agencies, so officials there have been able to develop Caseworthy, she said.
“Lancaster took it and applied it to a lot more things,” she said, adding that York County groups could benefit from the work once the new program is ready to spread.
Caseworthy project at a glance
What: Software company based in Salt Lake City, Utah
Specialty: Works with human services agencies to provide custom software.
In Lancaster County: Worked with agencies to build software that would offer a portal, reducing paperwork but also helping clients determine what other sources of help were available.
Background: The concept behind the Lancaster County project is that there is “no wrong door,” said Rhett Richins, vice president of business development at Caseworthy.
“If you walk into a food bank but need housing,” he said, “they can tell you where to find services.”