Mobilizing Staff to Make Them More Accessible

Submitted on Wed, 4/25/2012 - 10:40am

Headway Emotional Health Services

  • 110 Full-Time Employees
  • $6.5 million annual budget
Headway provided 50 staff members with smartphones running Google’s Android operating system, and moved to make their email, calendaring, and client data systems accessible via the web.

Headway Emotional Health Services, with a budget around $6.5 million, provides comprehensive mental health therapy, counseling and classes to more than 30,000 people each year. Each of the organization's case managers are responsible for 15-to-18 clients, and the nature of their jobs means they work mostly from the field.

"I do a lot of my work from home, and I'm rarely in the office in Richfield," said Ben Roberts, a children's mental health case manager. "We have a flexible schedule that revolves around when families are able to meet with us."

Roberts is essentially a middleman for kids with some type of mental diagnosis, working to make sure the county, service providers and insurance all serve the best interest of his clients. His clients are located across a broad geographic swath of Hennepin County, the largest county in the state. Because many of his meetings are scheduled only at the last-minute, he said, keeping his calendar is a challenge, and he seldom knows what clients' files he'll need in a given day.

"I'm at least 45 minutes from the office," he said. "If I had to get back in to pick up files every time, especially with traffic and travel time, it would be difficult, to say the least."

To meet the needs of case managers like Roberts, Headway provided 50 of them with smartphones running Google's Android operating system, and moved to make their email, calendaring, and client data systems accessible via the web.

"Really, what we wanted to see was, How mobile can we make them?" said Brad Kopecky, Headway's director of operations. "Enabling them with smartphones lets them use scheduling systems to keep track of things better, to load client data through Outlook, to make some apps available to them remotely. Client information is accessible, scheduling improves, and they're more reachable to clients."

Though some staff also have laptops, Kopecky said they're not always the best option. Phones are more convenient, and more portable, and a better fit in the long run—especially when used in conjunction with laptops. Roberts uses a MyTouch 4G Slide phone, which he can tether to provide an internet connection for his laptop when he's out of range of a Wi-Fi network.

"We have shared calendars, so I can see my boss's schedule, or my coworkers', and I can schedule meetings and appointments just from looking at my phone," Roberts said. "If I want to get something for my client, I can do that all from my phone, too. It's funny, because it's actually secondary now to all the other things it can do, but I can actually call people with it, too."

Kopecky said Headway's three-year strategic plan included goals addressing client demands for increased accessibility to the people they worked with, and using technology to reduce costs and streamline efforts. "Part of what we looked at is making workers as accessible as possible from a client-access perspective," he said. "When you've got that many case managers and only a couple offices, there's no easy way to do that."

Existing infrastructure made implementation easier, Kopecky said. "We're a Microsoft-centric organization—I'd worked with the organization to get to that platform. That certainly helps, the functionality of Outlook and integrating that with scheduling platforms and all that." Because he knew that the calendaring tools and client-data system would allow mobile access, it was a logical step to provide mobile phones to do so.

By Laura Quinn, Idealware and Amy Wagner, MAP for Nonprofits

This case study originally appeared in the report Unleashing Innovation: Using Everyday Technology to Improve Nonprofit Services. You can download the full report for free at http://www.mapfornonprofits.org/innovation