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Cloud platform integrates social services data across departments

Thousands of caseworkers at Maryland’s Department of Human Services (DHS) are using a single cloud-based platform to eliminate silos and better serve beneficiaries of child, juvenile and adult assistance.

Child, Juvenile and Adult Management Services (CJAMS) is part of the state’s Total Human-services Integrated Network (MD THINK), the country’s first cloud-based shared services platform for health and human services.  MD THINK provides a holistic view of residents receiving benefits from multiple agencies, including Maryland’s Health Department, Juvenile Services Department and the Maryland Health Benefit Exchange.

“Our goal is to reduce redundant data entry, but you will be able to maintain the same level of data integrity,” said DHS CTO Subramanian Muniasamy. Previously, caseworkers processing child welfare, Office of Licensing and Monitoring, and Juvenile Services applications had to log into three separate systems -- the Maryland Children's Electronic Social Services Information Exchange, Citrix and the Automated Statewide System of Information Support Tools -- with three different logins. Now they will have one permissions-based login that will enable them to see all the information relevant to them in one place.

Built on the Amazon Web Services cloud, MD THINK is like an airport and CJAMS an airline, Muniasamy said. Caseworkers enter it through one security channel and can then navigate to the services they need, such as Medicaid, food stamps and child support. They all share common “amenities” such as a shared data repository.

“Some of the fundamental information like demographics, income information -- once you enter [them], they will become available for other systems to view and pull,” he said.

DHS ran a pilot test of CJAMS in October 2019 in Washington County before deploying it in Anne Arundel County in January 2020. One challenge to a larger initial rollout was getting support for the system from the directors of the local social service departments in each of the state’s 23 counties and the city of Baltimore.

“To build and deploy these applications is a major challenge because every county director has to be convinced that this system really works for them, that all their caseworkers will be able to seamlessly process the cases through this system so that there is no delay,” Muniasamy said. “We are dealing with people’s lives, children’s lives…. If the system is not working, it’s not really going to help them out.”

The coronavirus pandemic helped accelerate directors’ faith in CJAMS, he said, as they watched caseworkers in Washington and Anne Arundel counties use laptops and Apple iPads to collect data in real time, even by phone, without going into the field, which supported social distancing. In April, the department did an all-remote launch of CJAMS with 226 child welfare workers in four counties: in Allegany, Carroll, Frederick and Garrett. Officials used the system from laptops and iPads to complete work, meet via Cisco Webex and get help from online support teams, according to a letter from Lourdes Padilla, DHS secretary.

The success in these counties has garnered support for CJAMS from others, Muniasamy said.

A major benefit of CJAMS is saving time, he said. Before, caseworkers went into the field, recorded data with pen and paper and returned to an office to enter the information into multiple systems. Now, they can enter the data immediately and it’s updated in the shared data repository.

Although DHS has not yet analyzed cost savings, the department is seeing reduced costs in operations and maintenance, he said, because agencies no longer have to build and maintain their own applications. Additionally, as new regulations or applications arise, CJAMS makes it easier to implement them enterprisewide.

MD THINK and CJAMS make security a priority. The larger platform complies with federal requirements such as the Federal Information Security Management Act and the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act. Additionally, all data is encrypted in transit and at rest.

CJAMS is a work in progress. Rather than calling it a minimum viable product, “we call this a reasonable viable product,” Muniasamy said. “The reason is that the word minimum is confusing to people. They worry, ‘I’m not going to get all the features for what I was doing.’”

“I would say that all of the features and functions of what they are doing in their real day-to-day activities -- everything is already built,” he added, with nice-to-have features coming down the pike.

Those will be implemented as they become available because DHS uses an integrated DevOps pipeline. That’s part of what allowed the department to complete this complex project in just 27 months, Muniasamy said.

About the Author

Stephanie Kanowitz is a freelance writer based in northern Virginia.

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