Hall brings answers as director of social services

Richmond County native returns to county health department 

By Kevin Spradlin

Just call Robby Hall the Ralph Nader of Richmond County. When Nader ran for president in 2000 as a Green Party candidate, he had plenty of answers to most any question posed.

His answers came in the form of bar graphs and pie charts.

Robby Hall, director Richmond County Department of Social Services

Robby Hall, director
Richmond County Department of Social Services

On Tuesday at the monthly meeting of the Richmond County Health and Human Services Advisory Board, Hall stepped into his new role of director of the Department of Social Services with a smile and already with a few answers on problem areas and possible causes — and those answers came in a PowerPoint slide with enough specifics to, well, answer the question.

Hall, 43, started his new position on Aug. 25 after spending most of the past four years in that same position with the Scotland County Department of Social Services. Prior to that, he was a program coordinator with the Richmond County Department of Social Services for more than 10 years. While in the Rockingham office the first time, he worked with child welfare, adult protection services, Medicaid transportation and more.

Jarrell said it was time for Hall, who maintained his Richmond County residence throughout his time working in Laurinburg, to come home.

“Without a doubt, we know he’s going to take our social services department to a new high,” Jarrell said, and “make this a better department than what it already is. We’re excited about that.”

So, too, is Hall. He doesn’t hide it whether he’s addressing the board members in a formal meeting or kicking back in his office. No matter where he is, a chart on a computer screen isn’t far away. Evidence-based decision-making is the way to go, he said unapologetically.

Throughout his years in social work, Hall said he understands the agency’s mission is about people.


“We are seen as the place to get help,” Hall said.

But it’s also about analytics, he said.

“I know people have stories,” Hall said, “but numbers can help tell what those stories mean.”

Evaluation, he said, “can lead you down the right path” and help even more people.

Less than three weeks into his new position that oversees 104 employees — not including temporary workers — Hall has already started a transformation. He picked Medicaid transportation, an issue with which he is intimately familiar, as an obvious hot spot for Richmond County’s department.

“We did a quick analysis,” he said. “That program seems to be exponentially growing — uncharacteristically, in fact, compared to other counties.”

To wit: Richmond County Medicaid patients use publicly funded transportation options — Area Richmond of Transit, private providers or volunteer drivers who are reimbursed for fuel — to get to medical appointments around the county and as far away as Chapel Hill when those services are not provided locally three times more often than Medicaid patients in nearby counties.

The number of trips each month has ranged from 4,000 up to more than 5,000 per month. In November 2013, the number was higher than 6,000.

The workload is increasing, Hall said, and there’s “still one person handling that scheduling.”

The budget for Medicaid transportation was $665,828. Area Richmond of Transit received approximately $141,000 of that amount.

The questions become, among others, why the dramatic rise in use and why is the service used so much more here than other places?

“I have some ideas,” Hall said with a chart and a smile. “We’re going to collect more data on that.”

Hall said Richmond County has several options from which Medicaid patients can choose to travel to appointments, though policy dictates the most affordable option available should be the one taken. Also, Hall said, there seems to be a trend from using public transportation, such as Area Richmond of Transit, to private providers.

“Once you know this, you can start working on solutions you didn’t know you needed in the first place,” Hall said.

Jarrell noted that the cost of transportation is “not going up slowly.” The same budget only four or five years ago was approximately $180,000 from the $665,828 in Richmond County. Hoke County officials spend $235,000 annually.

“This service has always been there,” Jarrell said, “People just hadn’t used it. We don’t necessarily advertise it.”

No matter how handy a pie chart might be, Hall knows the job is about more than facts and figures. It’s about people. It’s because of them, and his desire to help, that turned a job into a career. When he began with the Richmond County Health Department 14 years ago, he was a child welfare investigator — now assessor. His job was a complex one with a simple mission: protect and serve families.

“I really fell in love with it,” Hall said.

Yet another agency that strives to do more with less, Hall is confident technology can help when other resources are limited. He points to telepsychiatry as one example. Psychiatrists, he said, go where the people go — which is advantageous to more populated areas of Charlotte, Greensboro and Raleigh but less so for Richmond County.

If someone needs psychiatric help and declines to use the available technology, “we may have to wait for days” before a provider is available.

Another technological upgrade involves case management. If he wants to know how a particular case is going, he needs to put his hands on the actual file. Soon, he expects those files to be available in a digital format and kept up on a real-time basis.

While a mostly administrative position, Hall said he intends to keep his feet and ear to the ground and work with everyone to improve the efficiency of departmental operations.

“We have limited resources,” Hall said. The question, then, that must be asked: “Is there a way to make it better?”

With a new boss, staff can expect some modifications of the status quo. Hall said he won’t tiptoe around such changes, but plans to implement a team approach to getting things done.

“Change is hard,” he said. “But hopefully at the end of the that road, you’re going to benefit families.”



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