OKLAHOMA CITY – The state Department of Human Services will close half of its “brick-and-mortar facilities” in the months ahead, including six offices in southwest Oklahoma, Director Justin Brown announced recently.
The action is being taken “in order to stay mission-focused in a changing world, and in order to prioritize customers and workforce over physical structures,” Brown said. The agency will transition to telework as “the standard under a service-first model,” he said.
During the last few months, the DHS has “effectively met increased customer needs while teleworking, using technology as a pathway to more efficiently meet the needs of OKDHS customers,” Brown said.
The COVID-19 crisis and resulting economic downturn has necessitated a 4% reduction, or $28 million, in DHS’s $712 million budget for Fiscal Year 2021, Brown said. The service-first plan “will allow the agency to achieve this reduction without impacting services or workforce.”
The agency has 92 offices, warehouses and other storage spaces, and approximately half of them will be closed over the next few months, Brown said. Most of those facilities are leased, but the ones that are owned by the state will be placed on the surplus list, he said.
Some staff members will be reassigned to new duty stations or to telework, he said. No furloughs or layoffs are planned, Brown said.
DHS facilities will be closed in 35 counties, the agency indicated. Counties that will no longer have a DHS office include Tillman, Kiowa, Jefferson, Greer, Harmon and Caddo counties, said Keili McEwen, the agency’s communications director. In Stephens County, the stand-alone Child Support Services office will be closed, but the main DHS office will remain open and the child support staff will work from that site, McEwen said.
Thirty-four counties will continue to have an OKDHS office located in them. Two- thirds of DHS’s employees will continue to be assigned to a duty station in their current county, said state Rep. Carol Bush, R-Tulsa.
DHS staff will still be available statewide for face-to-face interactions by appointment, Brown said, “and this change will make services available in communities that have not historically had a brick-and-mortar presence.”
“Our intention is to issue a state-provided cell phone to every DHS employee,” McEwen said. In addition, all DHS employees will be required to carry business cards that list contact information where they can be contacted directly by customers and the community at large, Bush said.
“We know that we can continue to serve our customers in a meaningful way while teleworking,” Brown said. “Many of our staff are already working from the field. By prioritizing our services and customers over physical structures as we absorb budget cuts, and by strengthening community partnerships to serve in new ways, we are creating stability for our agency and those we serve well into the future.”