Dennis Taylor, acting secretary of the Kansas Department of Social and Rehabilitation Services, announced late Friday a major reorganization of the agency that will include the creation of a new area office in Lawrence.
Under the reorganization, Douglas County will no longer be under the Topeka area office, but will become the SRS area office for seven counties, taking in Franklin, Brown, Doniphan, Atchison, Jefferson, Jackson and Douglas.
The reorganization, which Taylor said was aimed at reducing administrative costs and increasing SRS services in the areas of child protective services and foster care, involves an overall reduction in the number of area offices from 15 to 12.
In addition, Taylor announced that about 15 administrators will be reassigned to direct client service in social work and income support in SRS field offices and that about $600,000 will be reallocated to the field offices to increase staffing levels.
THE LAWRENCE area office will cover areas previously under SRS's Hiawatha and Osawatomie area offices under the reorganization. Field offices will continue to be maintained in Hiawatha and Osawatomie.
Sen. Wint Winter Jr., R-Lawrence, learned of the reorganization late Friday. He said he was glad to see the move that will put more people in the field and remove Douglas County from under the Topeka area office.
"Lawrence has played second fiddle to Topeka," he said. "I think it's been a major problem."
Winter also said the need for more field workers, especially concerning child protective services and foster care, has reached "crisis proportions."
Barbara Conant, acting public information director at the SRS, said decisions on the number of SRS officials and caseworkers who will be stationed in Lawrence when it becomes the area office won't be made until an area director is named.
SHE SAID additional money from the reduction in area offices will go directly to children's protective services and foster care.
Taylor said he expects implementation of the reorganization would be completed in 30 to 45 days.
Jim Baze, SRS section chief in Lawrence, said Friday he would reserve judgment until he sees how the changes work out. He did say, however, that Douglas County has probably been misplaced in the SRS system by being under the jurisdiction of the Topeka area office.
Baze added that what the shakeup does immediately is "create a little anxiety" because local workers will be under a new area director and be taking on new responsibilities.
Taylor emphasized the changes will not result in a budget increase or in any loss of jobs.
"Any increases in field staff costs will be offset by reductions in administrative costs," he said. "We will not spend any more money but we will spend it more effectively."
OTHER PARTS of the reorganization include changing the position of commissioner of income maintenance and medical services.
A new position, the commissioner of income maintenance, with responsibility for the income maintenance and the child support enforcement units, will be created.
There have been numerous calls for such a division, including a number of people now working on a Special Task Force on Social and Rehabilitation Services that was created by the 1990 Legislature to study the agency.
Funding of SRS was a major concern during the last legislative session, and recent signs indicate that funding is still a problem. The SRS recently proposed, but then pulled back, a major increase in co-payments for hospital admissions for people on Medicaid. A freeze has also been announce for additional recipients of SRS Home Care Service.
The task force, which includes Winter, his father, former Sen. Wint Winter Sr., John Poertner, a Kansas University associate professor of social welfare, and Joseph Reitz, associate dean of the KU School of Business, will meet for the second time next Monday.
OTHER SRS changes announced Friday include the creation of new field training positions and a new area office consumer ombudsman position. In addition, the position of commissioner of adult services will have the responsibility of SRS consumer ombudsman added. The position will be retitled consumer of adult and community services.
Taylor also said he will create an agency long-range planning and policy unit through the reassignment of approximately 20 central office staffers over the next month.
"These moves represent our first steps to accomplish greater service to the public with less overhead," he said. "They also provide us with a means of creating a coordinated and coherent policy and long-range planning process that the legislature has been asking for."