The social services division of the Guilford County Health and Human Services Department is drowning in Medicaid applications – and Social Services Director Heather Skeens is asking for at least 20 new staff positions to catch up on a backlog and meet the department’s growing needs.

The Guilford County commissioners heard a presentation on the issue earlier this week at the Board of Commissioners 2020 Retreat and that discussion raised a question that’s perplexed them for years: Is there something about Guilford County that attracts people in need of government services? In many instances, Guilford County seems to be hit harder by growing demands for various government services than other counties in the state. And the numbers Skeens presented at the retreat indicated that the demand for Medicaid services was increasing in Guilford County more than in other places.

Skeens said that recent rule changes that required earlier processing of applications instantly put her department behind and social services needed to add at least 20 new positions, preferably 30, to address the overload.

The new positions would pay salaries of around $32,000 a year to start, but a large part of that cost would be covered by federal and state money.

Skeens told the Board of Commissioners that the county fell behind when the rules changed and then remained behind.

“Rollover builds because there’s only a certain number of cases we can get to,” Skeens said of the monthly battle to stay current.

She said that, in that effort, the department has racked up large overtime bills, but even that couldn’t keep up with demand, she added, because the system to process Medicaid applications and recertifications is only up and running from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.

“We are limited by system availability,” Skeens told the board. “It is a state system, not a county system.”

According to Skeens, even an address change can be very time consuming.

“Our population is transient and each address change in the state process is 15 or 20 minutes,” she said, adding that even the otherwise simple change takes “14 or 15 clicks.”

She said county social services officials had asked state officials what could be done to address the issue.

“’Add staff’ was state’s response,” Skeens told the commissioners.

She said that her department, in addition to working overtime, had already reclassified three positions.

No one had any real answers as to why the demand for services in Guilford County is increasing faster than in other places.