New York City's Bold Human Services Re-Engineering Bears Watching (Opinion)

HHS-Connect attempts to integrate Health and Human Services to produce better outcomes.

by / September 1, 2009

In March, my colleague Tod Newcombe, editor of our sister publication, Public CIO, and I traveled to Brooklyn, N.Y., to meet with a group of city government officials. We were there to hear about HHS-Connect, an ambitious plan to integrate information and activities across nine New York City health and human services agencies serving 3 million people.

Linda Gibbs, New York City's deputy mayor for Health and Human Services, and her CIO Kamal Bherwani, had asked us to host a meeting where HHS-Connect stakeholders and outside experts could assess -- and if necessary, critique -- the initiative's progress so far.

So for three hours, we got an inside look at project management and IT governance on a massive scale. Among other things, we came away impressed with the level of planning and risk management. It was also clear that HHS-Connect had built substantial buy-in: The meeting was attended by commissioners of several of the city's largest social services agencies, and it drew high-level representation from New York's Office of Management and Budget.

Our conversation in March was off-the-record, but what we learned led to this month's cover story. Through extensive interviews with Gibbs, Bherwani, major stakeholder agencies and some early users, the article paints a detailed picture of New York City's effort to re-engineer the delivery of social services.

It's a work in progress -- but crucial progress is being made, like the creation of a Common Client Index that will become the framework for data sharing among social services organizations. The initiative also posted some quick wins that help build momentum. Last summer, for instance, HHS-Connect -- working with the city Department of Education and others -- launched an online application that allows residents to check their eligibility for the federal school lunch program.

Ultimately, of course, the goal is to achieve better outcomes for the clients of social services programs -- and to ensure that money spent on such programs produces the best results possible. As state and local governments across the nation confront tough budgets, vital social services "safety nets" are being strained as never before. In this environment, we think New York's attempt to rethink how it delivers social services is an important story to report, and one that bears watching in the future.


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