Pod squad: Union County, NJ rethinks social service interviews
ELIZABETH — Varying in size to accommodate single residents, families, and those with disabilities, Union County has debuted a group of 20 mobile pods at its Social Services building in the county seat, with the intent of ensuring cleanliness and confidentiality for appointments.
"There's plenty of individuals who sometimes feel a little uncomfortable when they visit their different social services buildings, and one of the great things about these pods is that they're completely soundproof," County Commissioner Sergio Granados said. "Nobody can hear your conversations that are taking place with a caseworker."
Granados said with lingering concerns from the COVID-19 pandemic in mind, the pods are renewed with fresh air every 70 to 100 seconds, and LED lights sanitize the individualized spaces between appointments.
He described the pods as "super cool" in explaining how they work.
"Somebody goes into the interview pod, they're met on an interview monitor by a caseworker who's able to talk to them and do the whole entire process within this pod," Granados said. "It's just a whole other level of knowing and showing our residents that we're taking their health and well-being first."
Funding for the pods was provided through the CARES Act by the state and county Departments of Human Services.
While all of the spaces are currently housed in Elizabeth, because they are fully mobile, there are plans to move some to an alternate location in Plainfield, to serve people on both sides of Union County.
Granados feels not only that other towns within the county may benefit, but eventually, other New Jersey counties could also adopt this technology for a variety of services they offer.
"We've already been getting feedback from residents visiting these pods and truly saying this is second to none," he said. "They're truly happy, truly supportive."
The next phase of the pod project will be in those that are handicap accessible: installation of infrared hearing links, for assistive listening audio signals.