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Different Approaches for Addressing Common Program Challenges

By Leya Speasmaker

What method does your office use to process new client consultations? Read below to learn how two CLINIC affiliates have each created a system that accommodates and meets the needs of their office and their community.

Appointment-Only Model

Nathaly Perez
Program Manager
Office of Immigrant Services (OIS)
Catholic Charities of East Tennessee

1.  How do you currently process and accept new clients seeking the services of your office?

When someone calls or stops by our office, our staff conducts a brief legal screening in order to determine if the person or family’s request matches the organization’s services. We also let them know what services will be available and when they will be available.

If OIS does offer the immigration legal service the client needs, the staff person schedules a consultation with the BIA accredited representative, while also informing the client of the initial consultation fee due at the time of the appointment.

Once the client arrives for the appointment, the intake sheet is completed. At this time the client is informed of his or her rights and responsibilities to the agency, as well as the confidentiality policy. If it is determined that the client’s case will be taken, it is only then that a case number is assigned and the client signs a retainer agreement.

All clients who walk in are required to schedule an appointment for a later date unless the person’s situation is deemed an emergency requiring immediate attention.

2.  Why did your office decide to use this approach?

 Our office decided to use this approach because of the high number of calls and walk-ins we receive. In order to manage the demand, we needed to develop a concrete system that worked for our office. Now, we have set hours for consultation appointments, which last one hour each. We only make appointments for Mondays and Wednesdays from 1 to 6 p.m. and on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 10 a.m. to 3.p.m. We do not schedule appointments on Fridays or during other business hours so that we have time to complete case work and other tasks.

3.  What is the impact of this approach on your program?

This approach has had a very positive impact on the day-to-day operations of our office. Now, we experience less chaos, and the day’s schedule is much more organized and systematic. We have fewer "no-shows" and an increase in initial consultation fees because people understand up front they must come with fees (or their fee waiver request items) in order to receive an appointment.

4.  What is the community’s response to this approach?

The community now appreciates and values the appointment, our time, and their time more than when they could simply arrive at our office at any point in the week. I believe we have also increased the level of our office’s professionalism in the eyes of the community.

Also, clients who open cases with our office are motivated after the initial consultation to make follow-up appointments faster, since they know they'll be waiting a week or two before the next available slot.

Walk In-Only Model

Vanna Slaughter

Division Director

Catholic Charities of Dallas, Inc.

Immigration and Legal Services 

 

1.  How do you currently process and accept new clients seeking the services of your office?

Our program conducts daily walk-in intake from 7:30 a.m. until noon on a set schedule that includes some Saturdays.

One Monday a month, we ask clients who have “whopper” cases to come in to open their cases on a scheduled pre-paid appointment basis.  A "whopper" case can include: 1) large refugee families applying for adjustment of status; 2) multi-beneficiary family adjustment of status cases; 3) I-601 waiver packets; and 4) domestic violence victims' cases that need personal testimonies prepared.

We do our schedule this way for two reasons.  First, we want to give staff at least one Saturday off each month.  Second, we want to be able to dedicate the entire day for the preparation of big cases, so they don't backlog us during the week.

Each morning at 7:30 a.m. we open the doors and hand out numbers (there is always a line of people waiting).  Once everyone is seated we give an intake "charla" explaining how we operate and what to expect.

In our efforts to promote citizenship, we ask anyone present who has come only for US citizenship to come to the head of the line. We then ask everyone to applaud them for making the important decision to become a US citizen. 

Before we open the doors, we estimate our capacity for the day. Everyone is usually able to do four to five consultations on any given morning.

2.  Why did your office decide to use this approach?

Over the years, we have experimented with various appointment models and they have simply never worked for us.  When we used a 100 percent appointment intake model, we had a huge "no show" rate and it severely affected our productivity. We also tried a pre-paid appointment model, but at one point we had appointments scheduled so far out into the future (because of the demand), that it became a worrisome liability concern for us. So, after each attempt we have return to the walk-in model.

3.  What is the impact of this approach on your program?

This approach has several advantages. First, the walk-in model does not require us to maintain an appointment schedule. Next, we are able to control on a daily basis the number of potential clients we see and "cut off" the flow when we reach our capacity. Also, clients can choose when to come, including Saturdays, which is our busiest day.  Finally, while people are waiting to see staff, we take advantage of their attention and conduct outreach on important topics.

4.  What is the community’s response to this approach?

We do receive a few “Suggestion Box” cards complaining about the procedure we use that allows citizenship clients to go to the head of the line, but we believe it sends a positive message to all our clients about the value we place on citizenship.   The vast majority of our daily "Suggestion Box" cards are overwhelmingly positive about the ease of our system and the efficiency of it.