Morton Grove to contract out social service needs
Updated: January 21, 2013 2:53PM
MORTON GROVE — Morton Grove residents needing information on where to go for benefits and cash assistance can turn to the village for direction. But, beginning next year, the person handling such requests for guidance will no longer be a government employee.
The village is in the process of terminating its social worker position and transitioning all social services programming to an outside agency.
“It’s a matter of a local municipal government determining what we’re best at,” Village Administrator Ryan Horne said of the cost-saving maneuver.
The Village Board gave Horne the authority to pursue an arrangement with an outside agency while the agreement is being finalized, he said. A social worker is expected to work the Morton Grove Civic Center beginning in January. Additional staff members, including multi-lingual speakers, would be provided by the agency as needed, Horne said.
Director of Family and Senior Services Jackie Walker-O’Keefe, a licensed social worker, currently serves as the village’s liaison between residents and other agencies that provide financial assistance and other services.
In her 12-year tenure she also provided short-term counseling, administered a small staff and handled rentals for the Civic Center.
While most duties would be assumed by the outside agency, residents would “continue to receive the best services possible,” Horne said.
He added: “We are not eliminating social services whatsoever.”
In addition to saving the village thousands of dollars a year, the advantage of turning to specialized organizations is accessing a network of useful resources, Horne said.
“We don’t even have a hope of being able to match their expertise,” he said.
Horne compared the transition to the village’s decision two-and-a-half years ago to privatize the senior center.
At the time Morton Grove established an agreement with the North Shore Senior Center for the village to provide a facility for the non-profit’s enrichment programs for elderly residents. News of the deal did not come without criticism, despite helping the village save about $200,000 a year in employee costs, Horne said.
Change is difficult for anybody,” he acknowledged. “We are always sad to see (staff) go but it’s just what we have to do.”
The village spends more than $100,000 annually on social services staff costs and benefits, Horne reported. He said the village would likely shell out between $50,000 and $75,000 a year under the new agreement.
“We will expand social programing at roughly half the cost of what (a staff position would have) cost the village,” he said.
Horne said while Walker-O’Keefe “has been an absolute asset and a great friend to everyone,” the village “had the best interests of all residents at heart.”
“The taxpayers want to be reassured we are using the resources best way possible,” he said.
Walker-O’Keefe, of Glenview, said her work represented good partnership.
“I just think that Morton Grove is a wonderful town,” she said. “I’ve really appreciated the work that I’ve done here and the support of the administration.”
Kathleen Liljeberg, 65, said Walker-O’Keefe has done a “job well done.” A Morton Grove resident for the past three decades, Liljeberg is the caretaker of her husband, who has endured three strokes. She doesn’t own a car and sometimes needs assistance with errands and getting around.
“When you have nowhere to turn what are you going to do?” Liljeberg said.
Walker-O’Keefe pointed her in the right direction.
“She was helpful with a lot of things,” Liljeberg said. “She’s one of the one the most reassuring people I’ve known.”
Despite the village’s plans to continue its social services programming, Liljeberg was still disappointed to learn Walker-O’Keefe is leaving.
“You hate to see someone that good gone,” she said. “It’s hard to find people like that who you felt were there for you, you could talk to them, and they liked what they were doing.”
“I really wish we could save her job.”