Pitco still without its own social services
PITKIN COUNTY For the next six months, Pitkin County residents seeking welfare and food stamps or the help of a social worker will look to neighboring Eagle County, and the change might be permanent.After the loss of its three staff members, social services in Pitkin County was temporarily absorbed by Eagle County, according to Nan Sundeen, director of Health and Human Services.And according to Sundeen it might be a good move and one that sticks.”Social Services ensures individual, family and community well being by providing services to clients who are in need due to age, disability, economic status or have a need for protection,” reads the Pitkin County website.And social services in Pitkin County includes help with everything from food stamps, Medicaid, child care assistance, LEAP (Low Income Energy Assistance), old-age pension, aid to needy disable and temporary assistance to needy families and child protective services.Eagle County has absorbed only public assistance services, such as welfare. Pitkin Countys social services department continues to provide the normal slate of assistance, such as child protective services.”These are mandated programs; we can’t not provide them,” Sundeen said, and she is grateful Eagle County staff stepped up to assist the 160 people who receive help from the county.”In the last year we’ve had 100 percent turnover,” Sundeen said. Three staff members left, including a case manager, a caseworker and the director of public assistance who moved on after 23 years with the county.Sundeen is not sure if she will look for new staff for the social services office in Basalt.”Now we’re doing an organizational assessment to determine how best to provide social services,” Sundeen said. “I’m not refilling the director position until we finish the assessment.”As director of health and human services, Sundeen oversees social services as well as community health and senior services. She will act as interim social services director until the county has a plan, when Sundeen will either seek out a new director or cement the partnership with Eagle County.Subcontracting services with another county is not unusual; in fact, during a reorganization in 2000, Eagle County contracted with Pitkin County for similar services, but Sundeen stressed with its more than triple the population of Pitkin County, Eagle County has more infrastructure and specialists to handle social services.”What they bring is a lot more capacity,” Sundeen said. “In Eagle they have one person for one program; we have one person for 16 programs.”And because Aspen is a smaller community with a variety of needs, social service staff must be highly-qualified generalists in a number of fields, including everything from mental health and substance abuse to being bilingual in English and Spanish. Sundeen said it might be better to have many specialists rather than one generalist.Clients who formerly visited the Basalt social services office will now contact Eagle County social services via an 800-number and can meet with social service providers in satellite offices in Aspen and El Jebel.The social services case load is diminishing in Pitkin County, Sundeen said, but not because of successes in helping people get off public assistance – those in need simply leave the area.”You can’t live here and be at the poverty level,” Sundeen said.Charles Agar’s e-mail address is email@example.com
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