Creating a Roadmap to Navigate the Maze of HHS Services

By Mary-Sara Jones, IBM

Navigating government programs is difficult. I had been trying to support my father as he aged and his needs increased. He lived in another state, so I spent an incredible amount of time online and on the phone trying to understand what services were available and what was required for him to access them.

It took me almost a week simply to determine that Meals on Wheels did not serve his neighborhood and to track down an alternative. Despite all the hours I invested, I was not able to answer some questions at all – and I work in health and human services!

If someone with an advanced degree and 24 years of experience in HHS has difficulty navigating the government maze, how can we expect the average customer to get through it at all?

Stewards of Change Institute is proud to collaborate with Live Well San Diego and San Diego Health Connect on the 2019 CIE Summit. Please join us!



This is not news to anyone. Whether we work in HHS organizations or only receive their services, we all know how complicated it is to find the assistance you need when you need it. The industry has made a lot of progress, however, introducing several different approaches to help alleviate or mitigate the challenges. For example:

  • Utilizing Natural Language Processing to develop apps or chatbots to connect people to services. By simply stating your need in common language, such as “I cannot pay my electric bill,” the solution connects you to a program that can help.
  • Revisiting online functionality to more-effectively engage and empower the populations served. North Carolina DHHS, for instance, is currently undertaking a project to improve Medicaid engagement with the goal of improving community health. If done properly, these online capabilities should help the agency achieve its strategic goals. Digital government is a common buzz phrase – and the importance of becoming a Digital Enterprise cannot be overemphasized.
  • Empowering staff with more-complete data and tools to communicate and collaborate across programs, so workers are enabled to holistically address client needs. This is happening in three California counties – San Diego, Sonoma and Los Angeles – all of which have overcome their business challenges and are now supporting cross-agency data sharing. They will share their experiences and learning during a joint panel presentation at 1 p.m. on April 24 at the 2nd Annual Community Information Exchange Summit in San Diego.

The three examples of functionality summarized above are very different, but they share a common objective: closing service gaps and improving the customer experience. Although this is a goal for all customers, it is even more important for those who need support from multiple programs and providers.That is the objective of the CIE Summit, the theme of which is “Driving Cross-Sector Collaboration and Data Sharing to Create Healthier Communities” – i.e., to inform the participants about how to enhance care coordination across health and non-health sectors. Along with other presenters at the event, the three California counties will share their insights and best practices.Most of the challenges you face today have been addressed and successfully overcome by another organization. Take advantage of the summit to leverage the work of others to streamline your path to success and, ultimately, to improve community health.


Mary-Sara Jones is IBM’s Global Lead for State and Local Government Health and Human Services. She guides HHS organizations in addressing significant social issues such as homelessness, substance use disorder, recidivism and child safety.  


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