Program that helps people in need is losing money

By | March 9, 2024

Mar. 8—EFFINGHAM — When Janet Pattillo needed to help an elderly friend, she didn’t know where to turn.

The friend lived in a house in Altamont with no heat and minimal running water. Pattillo described the house as uninhabitable.

“Last winter she was living under a warming blanket and a small space heater, and the ceiling collapsed,” she said.

Pattillo wanted to do something before another winter came. However, she said the woman had no money, except social security, which wasn’t much.

“So I just started asking around. She had to be on Medicaid. I had no idea how to handle that,” she said.

That’s when Pattillo discovered the Effingham County Case Manager program at the Effingham Public Library. One of the case managers helped her fill out the forms and made sure everything was submitted.

“All I knew is that I wanted to help this person. They laid the groundwork for what I needed to do and communicated with people in Charleston. Apparently I should have driven to Charleston to get the same help,” she said. “They definitely held my hand through the process.”

The woman, who used a walker, was enrolled in Medicaid and was able to move to an assisted living facility in Effingham.

Even though she only lived a few months, Pattillo said the case managers helped make a difference.

“If they hadn’t helped me get this expedited, it’s possible she would have had to live in that house another winter,” Pattillo said.

The Case Manager Program at Effingham Library has served nearly 6,000 people since its inception in June 2020. But now that program is in danger of ending.

According to Amanda McKay, director of the Effingham Public Library, the program existed for years before, especially at larger libraries in college towns where they can be staffed by interns.

McKay said they always wanted to have the program in the library.

“People come in every day needing different types of assistance. They may be homeless, but they may also just need help applying for a job or filing for unemployment,” she said.

It wasn’t until the pandemic that the opportunity to get one arose, thanks to COVID relief funds and some donations. Now that financing stops. McKay estimates the program will run out of money by April 15.

“We’re looking for other funding, other scholarships, just any other opportunity. We have a relationship with EIU to see if there are any students who meet the requirements,” she said, referring to students pursuing a degree in human services to follow.

However, she said it is difficult to find someone from this area because it is an unpaid internship.

The program costs approximately $80,000 per year and is administered with two case managers, who are trained professionals. The case managers work from a room in the basement of the library, where people in need of help can walk in or call Monday through Thursday, from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.

Many are referred to the program by social service providers or nonprofit organizations and through word of mouth. While many local and regional agencies have a wide range of programs to help people — from childcare to finding a job and housing — McKay said they require a certain amount of documentation. Due to the volume of requests the agencies receive, she says they are not always able to do all the prep work with someone.

“For example, in the housing program you have to have an ID. If you’re homeless, there’s a pretty good chance you don’t have your ID anymore — if you ever had one,” she said. “So they’ll create a plan for the individual to help them navigate that. Then we refer back to a lot of the different programs because we really have a lot of great programs here and a lot of services, but it can also be overwhelming.”

For some, like Linda White, case managers are where they first turn when they need help.

White has received help from the case managers with several issues, including DHS benefits and Medicaid/SNAP.

“Sometimes I get information in the mail and I don’t understand it. I take it there and they can decipher it and explain to me what it means. They are very helpful,” she said.

The 74-year-old admits she is “technologically Amish” and doesn’t own a computer. She’s also just learning to use her cell phone’s features after having only a landline for most of her life. Tools often needed to navigate these services.

“They called for me and waited on the phone for 40 minutes. They are very dedicated to what they do,” she said. “They are very nice and very calm. They do everything they can do to help.”

It is not unusual for case managers to wait on the phone for a long time.

“If you’re just applying for benefits or trying to reach IDES (Illinois Department of Employment Security), the phone time could take half an hour or 45 minutes. We’ll sit here with them. We will call. We will try to just be that support to get it done,” said Case Manager Kelly Buscher. “A lot of people come in here and they say, ‘I don’t know how to do this.’ They just need support. They just need that one-on-one backup.”

Although their hours are limited, Buscher says they often work outside of those hours to catch up on paperwork, customer emails and phone calls.

“This helps streamline time so we get callbacks quickly,” she said.

Depending on the circumstances, according to Buscher, they occasionally help people outside opening hours if the need arises for complex matters or if they are still on the phone with an agency.

Buscher said some show up in panic, but after finding an answer and establishing a timeline, she said they are much less anxious when they leave.

“We identify their primary need because, depending on what they’re looking for, one person might only want help with one thing, and another person might want help with five or six different things. What’s most urgent: housing? Food?” she said.

Case manager Maria Deaconescu said some don’t know what’s available to them, and that’s where they come in and connect them with different agencies that can help.

Buscher believes it is rewarding to see the results and what the individual has been able to achieve with his help.

“When you work with someone who has a job and he or she actually gets a job, you’re super excited,” she said.

Tuesday Flowers got a job thanks to their help.

Flowers dropped out of high school at a young age and was a stay-at-home mom for many years. She is not very computer savvy and has difficulty filling out job applications on her phone.

“Everything is online. It’s not paper applications like it used to be. It’s such a hassle. That was the resource I didn’t have,” she said.

Thanks to their help, Flowers has a job that she says is improving quite quickly. They also helped her get a medical card.

“With my medical problems, I had so many, it’s surreal. But now I have my medical card. If something goes wrong, I can go back, and she helps me if I don’t understand something,” she says. said of the case managers. “You go out there and you get it done, and then you feel better about yourself, like you’ve accomplished something you’re trying to do.”

Flowers now refers others to the program.

“I usually send everyone I know, if they’re having a hard time and need help, there,” she said.

CEFS refers to them on a daily basis and vice versa.

“They refer clients to us for housing; assistance with LIHEAP benefits; CIPT transportation; WIOA education; literacy for better skills in reading, math, English learning; meals on wheels; head start; weather resilience, etc. Every need that they have. If we cannot help, then we will refer to other places that may be able to help – Catholic Charities, FISH, Access Opportunities, USDA, Douglas Township, etc. said CEFS Effingham County Coordinator Diane Depoister. “The Homeless don’t have access to computers or Wi-Fi, so Effingham Case Managers will help them apply for SNAP (food stamps), SafeLink (free government phone), apply for unemployment, arrange rides to an out-of-area doctor They help seniors know what there is available to get legal help, help with social security issues, home repairs.”

Depoister notes that the Case Manager program has even set up a room in the library for telehealth. Clients who have difficulty getting to doctor’s appointments can use it to make appointments via Zoom.

Depoister said all agencies work together to help those in need, and each is integral to meeting those needs. Without the Case Manager Program, many clients would not receive the services they need because they do not know where to turn for help.

“They do a great job helping customers get the services they need. It would be a huge loss for this community,” she said.

Effingham County case managers can be reached at 217-663-5291 or email effcocasemanager@gmail.com. The library is located at 200 N. Third St. in Effingham.

Cathy Griffith can be reached at 618-510-9180 or cathy.griffith@effinghamdailynews.com.

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