Taking Benefits to a New Level with Advocacy Services

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Thursday, September 3, 2015
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Nestled in the heart of southern California between Los Angeles and the Arizona border, the County of Riverside is home to popular resort towns such as Palm Springs and Rancho Mirage, as well as to Joshua Tree National Park and a number of ghost towns and Indian reservations. The fourth most populous county in California and the 10th most populous in the entire United States, the county relies on its 20,000-plus employees to ensure its residents and visitors receive the full Riverside experience.

Recognizing the role its team of employees plays in helping the County maintain its reputation as a desirable place to live and visit, Riverside takes great pride in ensuring these valued individuals are compensated fairly and given access to a full spectrum of benefits, including retirement saving vehicles and healthcare.

Traditionally, the county's human resource staff has handled all aspects of its benefits offering in-house -- from administration and participant education to questions and claims-dispute resolution. In recent years, however, budget cutbacks have resulted in a reduction in the department's staff.

With fewer HR staffers available, the County of Riverside grew concerned it would no longer be able to deliver the level of highly personalized attention to which its employees and retirees were accustomed.

At the same time, HR staffers found themselves fielding more complex questions brought on by the increasingly complicated healthcare environment. Recognizing the staff's growing challenge to help employees resolve issues in a timely fashion, the County of Riverside realized it needed to take action fast -- or risk dwindling productivity, retention and employee engagement.

The decision was made to continue handling benefits administration in-house, but to also offer employees and retirees a team of experts who could provide timely, skillful assistance with benefits-related issues and questions.

Not willing to simply hand these valued individuals off to an outside entity, the county sought a high-touch solution that would ensure each participant received the personalized service it had long prided itself on. Riverside officials found the solution they envisioned in the Advocacy services offered by longtime partner Aon Hewitt.

Leveraging Aon Hewitt's extensive expertise in health, retirement, talent and technology, Advocacy is designed to provide peace of mind, education, moral support and issue resolution for employees, retirees and their families who are struggling with complicated benefits questions. Boasting a team of experts that includes registered nurses, case managers and clinicians, Advocacy goes far beyond explaining benefits and resolving disputes. Aon Hewitt's Advocates have been able to play a pivotal role in the lives of Riverside employees and retirees since Advocacy's implementation on June 1, 2014.

This has included helping participants understand newly diagnosed health conditions and plotting out a course of action; locating healthcare providers and obtaining second opinions; and steering people in the direction of complementary offerings, such as the county's wellness program. Beginning at new-hire orientation, county employees are directed to a dedicated team of advocates who not only help them with their own benefits issues, but also those of their family members. These days, that includes everything from day care and services for a special-needs child to eldercare options.

In its first year alone, Advocacy managed more than 1,700 interactions with Riverside employees, averaging seven minutes per interaction. That's a savings of 208 hours -- time that HR staff members were able to dedicate to more business critical matters. Perhaps even more important for the forward-thinking, employee-centric public entity, Advocacy has enabled the County of Riverside to deliver a higher level of service than it ever could have provided in- house -- all while maintaining the personal touch of a truly groundbreaking employer.

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"Advocacy has brought us a good return on our time and productivity, but it's done so much more by delivering critical expertise, particularly on the clinical side," says Stacey Beale, senior manager of benefits for the County of Riverside. "That's an added level of service we never would have been able to provide with our internal staff. It's taken a huge burden off our backs and allowed us to be more efficient and proactive in other HR initiatives."


Organization: County of Riverside

Headquarters: Riverside, Calif.

Primary business: County government

Productivity challenge: To continue handling benefits administration in-house, but to also offer employees and retirees a team of experts who could provide timely, skillful assistance with benefits-related issues and questions.


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