Clients first: DPW forgot the first rule of customer service

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Let's hope the department comes through. Officials at the state Department of Public Welfare are backpedaling now.

They made a senseless decision to temporarily shut down their busy East Liberty office on May 2 and push thousands of clients to McKeesport for service instead, but the day after the Post-Gazette's Kate Giammarise reported the change, they said they are revising their plans.

That’s a bit of a relief, though the details are still too sketchy to be sure this unnecessary upheaval will be resolved satisfactorily.

Questions remain about how such an ill-advised move could have been contemplated in the first place. Did the decision-makers in Harrisburg understand the geography of eastern Allegheny County when they figured that low-income families, elderly and disabled adults and parents of children with disabilities could travel 12 miles from the assistance office on Penn Avenue to McKeesport? As inconvenient as that would have been for people with cars, it would have meant hours-long trips on multiple buses for those who use public transportation.

It’s insulting that the department has tried to minimize the impact of its decision, saying that its services are available by computer or by telephone, and that very few people should need to physically go to the office. If that’s true, why are the wait times at the office so long?

Give credit to advocates who work with many of DPW’s clients — particularly those at Just Harvest, the Thomas Merton Center and the Service Employees International Union, which represents staff members. They jumped on the news and quickly got the attention of DPW officials.

On Friday, a spokeswoman said that the department was looking for a permanent location in the East Liberty area and that, if it needed a temporary site, one would be selected that is within 5 miles of 5947 Penn Ave. and on a bus line. She said that, in the end, DPW does not expect clients will have to go to McKeesport. Let's hope the department comes through.

Change is hard, and shortsighted moves like the original DPW plan just make things harder. All of the confusion and consternation could have been avoided if welfare officials had simply thought about their clients’ needs first.

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