NBC12 helps Richmond mom get social services benefits

NBC12 helps Richmond mom get social services benefits

RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) - Three months after our investigation into Richmond's Department of Social Services delays, which held up benefits many people need to survive, it seems citizens are still having problems. A Richmond woman called NBC12 desperate after she says she can't get anyone at DSS to call her back and get her kids Medicaid.

Jessica Fluhart had been trying to deal with Richmond's Department of Social Services directly. She'd been calling them for months since filling out her kids' Medicaid applications.

"My prescriptions for my insurance are like $10, $15, $30, and I don't have that kind of money," she said.

Fluhart's three daughters and step-daughter, who have allergies and eye issues, need health insurance.

"She needs an epi-pen for school," Fluhart said. "If she can't have the epi-pen for school, the school's willing to not let her go."

She filled out the application to have Medicaid for her 3-, 6- and 8-year-olds renewed and to start coverage for her 9-year-old step-daughter on September 25.

"Called back a couple weeks later and they're like 'oh well you have 30 days to get this taken care of. We'll let you know in 30 days,'" Fluhart recalled. "Ok, I waited 30 days and called back, no return call. Called back again, no return call."

About two and a half months later, she still did not know if her children would be covered, so she called NBC12.

"Here I am middle of December, their insurance is going to expire at the end of this month if I don't do something, if they don't do something," she added.

Three months ago, when we first investigated the delay in DSS benefits like Medicaid and food stamps, officials said they were short-staffed and were in the process of recruiting.

Jessica's case illustrates there are still problems. We took the issues straight to DSS head David Hicks.

"We need an expectation of 100 percent satisfaction," Hicks said. "The electric company, every time you flip a switch you expect the lights to come on. That's not too much to ask."

The day after we started asking questions, Jessica found out all of the applications had just been approved. We asked Hicks why it took a call from NBC12 to get Fluhart her benefits.

"It shouldn't take the attention of the director or of the media to get it fixed in the first place," he responded.

Hicks couldn't go into specifics because of privacy concerns, but says when we called they started looking into how the case was handled.

"I'm sure there are a whole bunch of people who are a lot less happy today than this time yesterday when this came to our attention," he added. "But if that helps us get better, so be it. If this happening causes some grief for some people inside, the extent to which that means it's not going to happen the next time, helps us get better."

Hicks said DSS has also hired more workers. When he took over, there was a 20% vacancy rate, now that number is down to between 13 percent and 15 percent.

In an email, Jessica wrote: "I know in my heart if it hadn't been for you helping me, this never would have gotten taken care of and I can't thank you enough."

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