Editor’s note: The following report was written using releases from the the Legislative Press and Public Information Bureau and a statement posted by Gov. Gina Raimondo’s office.
STATE HOUSE — “We’re not going away, so get ready,” said Rep. Patricia Serpa (D-Dist. 27, West Warwick, Coventry, Warwick), chairwoman of the House Oversight Committee, after four hours of grilling state officials Thursday on the problem-riddled Unified Health Infrastructure Project.
“I called this hearing to learn why the administration opted to proceed after the state received a Sept. 2 letter from the USDA stating that launching the system would ‘risk program access, worker backlogs, delayed application processing and untimely benefits, over issuances and increased payment rates’ — all of those things did, indeed, happen.”
Chairwoman Serpa, along with Rep. Marvin L. Abney (D-Dist. 73 (Newport, Middletown), chairman of the House Finance Committee, called the joint meeting after hearing from several people who had been adversely affected by the rollout of the project last month.
The $364-million UHIP, now also called RIBridges, is a statewide computer system that replaces and unifies numerous aged computer systems across the state’s human services agencies, with the goals of modernization, information sharing and efficiency. The program has faced criticism for changes in size and scope over the years.
Prior to the hearing, Chairwoman Serpa said she was already concerned about reports that the new system had resulted in missed payments for 29,000 Supplemental Security Income (SSI) recipients, Supplemental Nutritional Assistant Program (SNAP) benefits that were not disbursed to some recipients at the beginning of the month and other problems.
Responding to the interrogation of the lawmakers were Elizabeth Roberts, secretary of the Executive Office of Health and Human Services; Michael Dibiase, director of the Department of Administration; and Melba Depeña Affigne, director of the Department of Human Services.
Roberts told the panel, “The project has been and continues to be our highest priority.”
“To transition to the new system, which serves nearly 320,000 Rhode Islanders, the state transferred more than 400 million fields of data from the old platform to the new one. As anticipated, the state has experienced some issues with the new system that have impacted customer service and contributed to increased wait times at the DHS service centers. However, the overwhelming majority of customers are able to use the system without any significant issue and most issues have been resolved within days of being identified,” Raimondo said in a statement posted to the state’s website.
But Serpa and other lawmakers found the glitches, unacceptable, pointing out the adverse health effects it had on many Rhode Islanders, including missed medical treatments and missed food assistance.
“Once again, impatience on behalf of state agencies’ leaders and inadequate preparation resulted in a half-baked program being thrust upon Rhode Islanders,” said Chairwoman Serpa. “This time, it went beyond embarrassment and inconvenience, leaving our most vulnerable citizens — children, the elderly, the disabled, the needy — without support. This avoidable blunder affected thousands of human lives, and those responsible for it should account for their actions.”
At the conclusion of the hearing, Representative Serpa demanded weekly reports on the status of the project from the three officials and promised there will be additional accountability hearings going forward.
Raimondo also announced the Providence DHS Center (206 Elmwood Avenue, Providence) will extend customer hours until 6:30 p.m. every Tuesday and Wednesday, in an effort to reduce lobby wait times and assist customers with their applications for benefits. The Governor also announced today that at her urging, Deloitte will immediately assign additional managers – at no additional taxpayer cost – to supervise technical staff in the DHS Field Offices and better manage regular data reports about the new system.
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