The Critical Worker Benefit project enables a one-time payment to recognize Alberta’s critical workers during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Alberta Health sets policy and direction to achieve a sustainable and accountable health system to promote and protect the health of Albertans. The ministry is responsible for setting policy, legislation and standards, allocating health funding, administering provincial programs, providing expertise on communicable disease control, and implementing government policy in Alberta.
The Critical Workers Benefit (CWB) project created an online application system that allows healthcare operators to apply for COVID-19 benefit funding from Alberta Health. The Operator Covid-19 Support Funding provides a payment to eligible healthcare organizations in Alberta that have been impacted by COVID-19, such as through reduced bed capacity or increased costs. The funding scales based on the impact to the organization and the size of the organization. The application contains a User portal (known as the “Operator Portal”) used by applicants, and an Agent portal (the “Assessor Portal”).
Through the benefit, the Government of Alberta aims to distribute up to $465 million in funding to eligible workers. This includes up to $118 million in provincial funds, in addition to $347 million from the federal government’s benefit program for low-wage critical workers.
($367M distributed to 289,800 workers)
on $1,200 payments
to increase wages $2/hour
health care aides
($99M available to 76,500 eligible workers)
for the social services sector
for the private sector
The CWB benefit application system is set to handle more than 30,000 employees receiving benefit funding with 1,000+ processed so far. The task management system handles the administrative process of preparing an application for payment, which requires tracking status of actions from both organizations and assessors. The application generates PDFs dynamically that also match styling guidelines.
Assessor Portal in production was federated with a GoA active directory to enable user authentication and blocked any traffic from outside the GoA network
This made debugging production issues a bit tricky, needed to VPN in and working with the program area (partially blind to avoid them showing us any sensitive information)
The Critical Workers Benefit application enables the Government of Alberta to distribute funds to eligible employees and organizations in a streamlined, efficient, and secure process.
At a high-level, the goals of the application are to:
Project Discovery & Design
FreshWorks worked collaboratively with Alberta Health to ensure an agile process was implemented at every stage of the project. Due to rapid policy decisions and urgency of the policy, discovery moved in parallel with design and development. We were building features as we went from the very beginning. Prioritizing a user-centered design process was critical. It was important that applicants would have a seamless, intuitive process to receive a grant they are eligible for. Our primary goal throughout discovery and design was to make the process as simple and efficient for the user.
In order to build an application that was intuitive and solved this challenge effectively, our team prioritized requirements gathering with the client and major stakeholders involved. We interviewed program area representatives who worked as assessment agents to determine needs to support their workflow. The process was highly collaborative and engaged. Our teams ran daily morning and afternoon check-ins with the program area, and engaged in coworking and collaboration at every stage of the project. For example, in our daily meetings, our design and development team shared our work and engaged in detailed discussions around feature prioritization and feedback on Figma designs. One of the benefits of this approach is that we were able to implement changes live, and get further feedback from the team. This reduced wait times and inefficiencies in the discovery and design process, and allowed us to move forward quickly in an agile manner.
Wireframes are a visual design draft used to represent the structure of information and demonstrate the basic functionalities. By visualizing the content we ensured the product delivers the full expected value to users.
Our design team worked closely with development to ensure accessibility requirements, such as proper font colour and text size, were thorough and implemented effectively. For example, we had to make sure the payment status for approved, in process, and denied was not pastel coloured so they could be read on all different screens. Our team also ran an accessibility checker to ensure this was readable on all screens. Every user deserves an accessible, seamless experience.
There are two portals within the application – the operator portal and the admin portal. Each of these portals has different functionality and features contained in it.
The Operator Portal allows healthcare organizations and independent practitioners to create an account, apply and edit their benefit applications, and to follow up on action items for the processing of their applications.
The Assessor Portal provides Alberta Health staff with the ability to review benefit applications, approve or deny applications at a granular level, work through the processing tasks required before an application could be paid, and to compile payment batches to be sent to GoA’s payment system.
Operator Portal Features
Authentication is managed through IBM’s App ID system. Already established in GoA this allowed for easy security clearance and quick development.
Org. Info and Benefit Application Data Entry
Operators can enter info on their organization and to submit their benefits. Organization info and employee data is all securely stored.
Task follow up
✓ Operators can receive action items from Assessment staff
✓ Approved applications will require a Grant Agreement to be signed by the Operator, and the portal will allow them to download/upload the document for signing.
✓ The Critical Worker Benefit also requires operators to confirm how many of their employees they paid with the allocated funding, the operator portal will automatically alert them to fill this out once their application is set as paid.
Admin Portal Features
Organization Look-up / Organization Details
✓ Agents are able to see all the corresponding information (what the status is for each benefit, organization name, which agent it’s assigned to, etc.) Can hit the view button to pull up organization details.
✓ Organization Details
Can click actions and assign themselves. Can view org. Information including banking details + void cheque. Everything is in one spot – don’t need to spend time searching through the application to find the details you need.
✓ Can approve each facility per care category for the operator benefit
✓ Approve/Deny per employee for Critical worker benefit
Can leave a denied reason as well in case there is follow up from the operators
Generate Grant Agreement
✓ Before a benefit can be paid GoA needs to have a Grant Agreement document signed by both a rep from GoA and the operator receiving funding
✓ Once an application is reviewed and finalized the necessary documents will be automatically generated by the system
✓ Task feature guides assessment staff through each step needed to complete the Grant Agreement
Operator is emailed when it is their time to sign to take action
✓ Once an application’s grant agreement is finalized it is ready for payment, the payments feature will group all applications that are ready for payment and allow the assessor to create a payment batch with a selection of the applications
✓ Payment batches are then used to generate the necessary files that are sent to GoA’s 1GX payment system
✓ System tracks the payment status of each application
All together, through these two programs were distributed:
health sector employees
- The Government of Alberta payment system 1GX (which requires files that matched the template formatting to the exact character).
- Connecting to an external Service Alberta database to check for duplicate employee SINs submitted from other ministries for the benefit
- Using IBM’s App ID service for user account creation and authentication.
The Critical Workers Benefit project delivers aid and recognizes Alberta’s critical workers during the COVID-19 pandemic. We are very fortunate to have worked on an impactful project that will streamline benefit distribution throughout the province during a time of unprecedented uncertainty and change. We look forward to our continued partnership with Alberta Health with the vision to improve access to accessible, inclusive citizen services throughout the province.
We hope this project serves as a blueprint for future grant public sector applications, paving the way for digital services for all citizens.