FREDERICK – Of the five counties that make up District 5 of the Oklahoma Department of Human Services (OKDHS), Tillman County is the latest of four that will soon close their doors as part of the ongoing DHS-orchestrated Service First initiative.
Along with Tillman County, Kiowa, Harmon and Greer counties will also see or have already seen their DHS offices close, leaving Jackson County DHS in Altus as the remaining physical office space in the district, according to Casey L. White, the External Communications and Media Relations Administrator with OKDHS’ Office of Communications.
It was in early 2020, in the early days of the COVID-19 global pandemic, that the often-beleaguered and overworked state agency began implementing the Service First model so the agency could “stay mission-focused in a changing world” and, as a result, “prioritize our customers and workforce over physical structures.”
In Frederick, the Tillman County office closed Thursday after 32 years of a presence in the southwest Oklahoma county. Officials insist that local customers will not see any interruption in services. The change is not only a cost-saving measure, but one led by Secretary Justin Brown, who has been on the job for more than a year, after accepting the position offered to him by Gov. Kevin Stitt.
As the former business CEO told a Tulsa TV station last September, “I think the biggest change that we’ve made is a development of a framework to organize all processes and systems that we’re working on going forward.”
It should be noted that Brown does not even have his own office. That space was turned into a conference room.
In an emailed statement to Southwest Ledger, White said: “I want to restate that before buildings are closed, we have developed community partnerships for continued community presence and accessibility for our customers.
“In addition, as I said before, our online portals at ok- dhslive.org and okbenefits. org have proven to be successful points of entry for our customers.
“The changes being made to physical structures will create stability for our agency and the customers we serve by allowing the agency to absorb budget cuts without impacting any services or the people who deliver them,” she concluded.
HISTORY AND STATUS OF DISTRICT 5 OFFICES
• Tillman County. OKDHS occupied the building in Frederick in 1989, closing on January 14, 2021.
• Greer County. First opened in 1971 in Mangum. It was originally owned by Greer County and then deeded to OKDHS around 2008. It was remodeled and added more square footage. Will close January 14.
• Harmon County. 20-plus years. Owned by county. This office in Hollis closed November 10, 2020.
• Kiowa County. The OKDHS office in Hobart closed September 21, 2020. Over the years it leased space from private lessors in Kiowa County.
• Jackson County. OKDHS built a new building here in in Altus in 2004.
White said that while two-thirds of OKDHS staff will continue working in the county in which they are currently assigned, the agency has closed or will close some buildings in order to embed the workforce deeper into the community through partnerships and to realize some fiscal savings.
“OKDHS believes partnership and community engagement are critical components of service delivery and when a building closes, we have developed community partnerships for continued community presence across the state and accessibility for our customers,” White said.
The partnerships formed in each community in District 5 vary and include churches, service organizations, community centers, local governments, hospitals, local law enforcement, libraries and career technical schools.
Partner agencies are providing daytime space for OKDHS staff to hold team meetings, client interviews, family visitation, family team meetings, storage of client/ child possessions, TANF Testing and genetic testing, White added. Some partners are providing 24/7 access to meet after hours emergencies and to support families visiting with their children in foster care and safe storage for fleet vehicles.
Outside of District 5, other counties facing closure of office buildings include: Adair, Beckham, Blaine, Caddo, Choctaw, Coal, Craig, Custer, Delaware, Garvin, Harper, Haskell, Hughes, Jefferson, Johnston, Kingfisher, Latimer, Logan, Major, Marshall, Mayes, McClain, Murray, Noble, Nowata, Okfuskee, Osage, Pawnee, Seminole and Washita.