Continuing collaborative efforts to provide a "one-stop shop" for resources in the county, the Harvey County Health Department and a number of partner agencies launched the new Integrated Referral and Intake System (IRIS) this week.

Establishing an online network with which agencies can share information on clients, Health Department director and IRIS community champion Lynnette Redington noted the idea is to help as many people as possible — connecting them with resources that they may or may not be aware of in the community.

"It really is a referral system that agencies can use in a non-emergency type situation. If you're going to need help right now at Health Ministries Clinic Dental, I will call them and I will get you an appointment that way or we'll work together. If you need to get on a list for some food because you are new to 'the system' and you're not sure how to go about doing that, I can hook you up through IRIS with the Salvation Army if they're one of our partners," Redington said. "It is for agencies to talk to each other because, the information that we're able to provide, it's kind of like a resource directory online for agencies and we're also able to share some information that is totally confidential and is held in privacy."

Before Harvey County's implementation of IRIS, the system was established and had already been used by a number of counties across Kansas. Through funding from an opioid crisis cooperative agreement, Harvey County was able to officially launch IRIS on July 22 — with a number of other counties (including Sedgwick and Barton) in the cooperative agreement also recently adopting the network.

Each system is established independently for the various counties, though Redington did note Harvey County IRIS will receive technical assistance through the statewide network. Outside of that, the core IRIS organizations will run the network and have already established their own standards as to how it will operate locally. For instance, partner agencies may not solely be located in Harvey County.

"We have set our parameters as anybody who services individuals who live in Harvey County," Redington said. "So, if you are in Reno County and your services come across the line, you can be part of the Harvey County IRIS community."

Currently, the health department, Healthy Families Harvey County/Kansas Children's Service League, Newton Meals on Wheels, Newton Public Library, Peace Connections and Prairie View have all officially joined the local IRIS network, according to Healthy Families supervisor and IRIS community manager Virginia Schwiethale. Additionally, the USD 373 Board of Education gave approval for Newton schools and programs (like Parents as Teachers) to join IRIS.

Redington noted being fairly new, IRIS is looking to blossom. While there are a number of resource agencies that could boost the local impact, she noted there are others who could help the mission simply by expanding the reach of IRIS, such as the Newton Chamber of Commerce.

"Maybe they don't take referrals, but sure enough they can give referrals to other agencies," Redington said.

"Getting IRIS, we can connect with each other. Again, not in emergency-type situations, but we can help each other use our resources the best that we can and help our residents get those services that they really want," Redington said. "We've talked often about having a one-stop shop and I think with our electronic age that this is bringing that together a bit more. Yes, it's nice to have everybody in one location ... but this is that intermediate step that we can get people connected. We have so many services that are out there."

To connect residents to resources in an efficient, effective way that makes life changes is the vision behind IRIS and Redington said the system itself is fairly adaptable to help the partner agencies achieve that goal — though client consent will be required before information is entered into the network. The system will allow agencies to search services by key word (to make those connections easier), while also offering the ability for agencies to designate if they are not currently taking referrals.

Ultimately, Redington noted the hope is that IRIS will increase services (offered and received) for everyone in Harvey County and both she and Schwiethale are excited about what that could mean for the community.

"I think in the grand scheme of things it will help families get connected to resources in the community that agencies may not have known about," Schwiethale said. "It will be more of a flawless system in the sense of families getting hooked up with resources that are in the community."

"We have some partners that already know the benefits of IRIS and can talk it up to others and kind of be our gurus in case somebody gets a little stuck, but it's not a difficult program to use," Redington said. "It may be that we're increasing the services of all these different agencies we have inside of IRIS and partnerships will be built."

For more information or to sign up as an agency, contact Redington at 283-1637 or Schwiethale at 333-1888, ext. 1942.