March 1, 2010 By Steve Towns
Linda Gibbs and Kamal Bherwani lead one of the most ambitious social services transformations in the nation. Through an initiative known as HHS-Connect, they're integrating information and activities across nine New York City health and human services agencies that serve millions people - many of them in crisis.
Gibbs is deputy mayor of Health and Human Services, a position created by New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg in 2006 that gives her oversight of all city social services agencies, as well as agencies for corrections, probation and juvenile justice. The expansive post charges Gibbs - former commissioner of New York City's Department of Homeless Services - with comprehensive responsibility for helping some of the neediest and most marginalized city residents.
Bherwani is CIO of Human Services and executive director of HHS-Connect. He has more than 20 years' experience in the public and private sectors, most recently as CIO of the city's Department of Health and Mental Hygiene. His job is to give Gibbs the technology tools and information architecture she needs to deliver an effective, holistic set of services to city residents and families.
Gibbs and Bherwani make a formidable team. They've distilled input from multiple city agencies into a single vision, turned that vision into an outcome model, set goals and established metrics to measure progress. And although the entire project is spread over several years, they've already achieved some significant results that show the value of cross-departmental collaboration.
For instance, HHS-Connect worked with the city Department of Education to let New Yorkers check their eligibility for the federal school lunch program online. A Web portal called Worker Connect is beginning to give social services caseworkers access to better client information - basic demographics, a financial snapshot, employment history, and information about a client's enrollment in programs like food stamps and Medicaid.
Most important, HHS-Connect built a common client index (CCI), which is a master registry of client information across multiple benefits programs. As more data is pulled into the CCI, it will become the foundation for an enterprise case management system that gives social services caseworkers a holistic view of a person's circumstances, allowing caseworkers to deliver a set of services tailored to a client's individual needs.
As cities across the nation cope with dwindling funds and growing HHS caseloads, New York City may be creating the model for squeezing more value and better outcomes from social services programs. And Gibbs and Bherwani are at the forefront of that effort.
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