Docs show stark increase in calls, wait times after UHIP launch

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — Documents released Friday revealed a significant increase in both calls and call wait times to the R.I. Department of Human Services (DHS) since the state launched its new benefits eligibility system.

The Target 12 Investigators received dozens of pages of data from DHS on Friday as state officials continue working to fix a number of problems that have arisen with the $364-million Unified Health Infrastructure Project (UHIP), the biggest IT project in state history.

Since UHIP’s launch last month, users have run into issues with EBT cards, SNAP benefits, SSI payments, and employees had trouble logging into the system.

The week before the launch, DHS fielded 5,628 calls and the average wait time was about 14 minutes. Last week, that number more than doubled to 11,610 calls and the average wait time was an hour and 12 minutes.

The statistics also showed that more than 6,000 people simply hung up.

The documents also revealed there were more than 4,000 unprocessed documents for SNAP benefits – formerly called food stamps – as of Oct. 3.

On Friday night, the state’s Department of Administration also revealed that it overpaid four residents’ EBT cards by a total of $36,000 and is now working to recoup the money.

Gov. Gina Raimondo said earlier this week she wasn’t personally aware of strongly worded letters from the federal government to her administration that warned the new system wasn’t ready to launch.

“It was not brought up to me, no,” Raimondo said in an interview one day after Target 12 revealed the letters. “At any given time, there’s a lot of letters being sent from the federal government to my team on any number of issues.”

UHIP was started in 2011 by the Chafee administration to build the state’s Obamacare portal, HealthSource RI, and to replace its three-decade-old system for managing benefits programs like food stamps and Medicaid. The project has faced repeated delays, and its cost has nearly tripled to $364 million so far; an additional $124 million was recently requested for it.

State officials on Friday continued to defend the decision to launch on Sept. 13, despite the letters saying the state was doing so “at its own risk.”

“We were ready,” said Health and Human Services Secretary Elizabeth Roberts. “We had tested this system a great deal and we’re here now solving the issues that still remain. But for the vast majority of people we serve, the system is working.”

When state officials were asked to give the launch a letter grade, they said B+ or B. But they also said they know they have to do better.

Outraged members of the House Finance and House Oversight Committee members are set to hold a joint hearing on Oct. 20 to grill Raimondo administration officials on what they’re calling a “botched rollout.”

In the wake of these troubles, hours have been extended at DHS field offices to try and help more people, they said.