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March 23, 2012 -- Westchester County departments have won three prestigious awards for projects that use innovation to provide better services and save money, County Executive Robert P. Astorino announced on Friday. The projects focus on a Web section to sign up for affordable housing, video conferencing at the jail and coordination of mental health services.

They are:

  • The county's Homeseeker Web site (www.westchestergov.com/homeseeker ) has been selected for a Best Practices Award of Merit by the County Planning Division of the American Planning Association based on its user friendly design providing access to extensive information on fair and affordable housing developments. The Planning Department oversees the site, created in partnership with the Department of Information Technology.
  • The county's video conferencing system at its jail has been named a Laureate in the 2012 Computerworld Honors Program for its use of innovative technology to promote positive social, economic and educational change. The project involves the county's departments of Information Technology (DoIT) and Correction (DOC). It is the second consecutive year that the county government has been named a laureate.
  • The Westchester County Department of Community Mental Health's Care Coordination program has been selected as a national, innovative healthcare program by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The award was based on the program's novel approach and documented success in improving the quality of life for individuals with mental illness, while simultaneously reducing costs.

"These three projects are fine examples of how we can find innovative ways to make our government more efficient while also saving money,' said Astorino. "Congratulations to the four county departments – Information Technology, Correction, Planning and Community Mental Health – involved for their creative work to make these initiatives happen."

Here are more details about each award:

Homeseeker Web Section
In order to improve access to information on county-funded fair and affordable housing developments and to reach a broader regional population, the county created the Homeseeker Web section within the main county Web site.

Homeseeker allows people to view fair and affordable housing opportunities, provide information on the area where the housing is located and lets them sign up for information about future housing and other housing related events. The site includes mapping components that integrate seamlessly with Microsoft's Bing to provide virtual satellite-views of each neighborhood where the new housing is located. The site is in English and Spanish.

In the first 14 months of operation, the site drew 9,033 viewers. Overall, 1,873 households have signed up for information.

"The award from the American Planning Association's County Planning Division and the National Association of County Planners recognizes Homeseeker as an innovative national model for states and municipalities to emulate and adapt for their own uses," said Edward Buroughs, commissioner of Planning." The Award of Merit will be presented April 15 in Los Angeles.

"I am pleased that the results of DoIT's collaboration with the Department of Planning on the Homeseeker Web section have been held up as a national example," said CIO Beirne. "Embracing new technologies and delivering solutions in a collaborative fashion will continue to be a key to our future success."

Video Visitation
The program honored is the TeleCorrections Inmate Kiosk and Video Visitation System, a first-of-its-kind solution implemented by the county's Departments of Information Technology and Correction to facilitate secure virtual visitations with Westchester County jail inmates.

The county has realized significant cost savings as a result of the new system – in 2011 TeleCorrections generated an estimated $400,000 in savings by reducing the time it takes for bail expediters to meet with inmates to arrange bail. Additional savings were realized as a result of reduced travel and staff time.

Marguerite Beirne, the county's chief information officer, noted that more than 500 nominations were submitted in the competition hosted by the global information technology publication, and only 200 of those (from 25 countries) were recognized as Laureates.

"This is a very competitive program that attracts submissions from public and private sector organizations located all over the world. The fact that Westchester was named a Laureate two years in a row says a lot about the creativity of county departments and the expertise of our Department of Information Technology staff," Beirne said.

Commissioner of Correction Kevin Cheverko said, "Through use of this system, the Department of Correction has operated a safer and more efficient facility. In 20111, DOC had 3,500 fewer visitors to the facility. With each averted visit, our staff members are able to devote their time and attention to other work-related tasks."

The TeleCorrections system is a first-of-its-kind solution in New York State and possibly the United States that allows an inmate from the Westchester County Jail to securely communicate face-to-face with an outside party without having to leave his or her secure housing area. The system was initially installed in May of 2008 for bail assessment interviews but has since expanded to support home-based virtual visitations for family of an inmate. Financial obstacles, poor health or long distance have all been overcome by the new system which facilitated 2,500 virtual visits in 2011.

In announcing the award, John Amato, vice president/publisher of Computerworld, said: "What the Computerworld Honors Laureates so clearly demonstrate is technology's role in moving society forward. Computerworld acknowledges and applauds the outstanding work being done by individuals and organizations who have successfully used technology to improve the quality of our lives and that of future generations."

The Computerworld Honors Program awards will be presented at the Gala Evening and Awards Ceremony on June 4 in Washington, D.C. Additional information about the program and a Global Archive of past Laureate case studies, as well as oral histories of Leadership Award recipients can be found at the Computerworld Honors Web site.

Community Mental Health
The program provides intensive case management to adults with serious mental illness and a history of frequent visits to emergency rooms, numerous hospitalizations and significant social service needs. This population has traditionally had poor health outcomes, despite significant spending on healthcare and other services.

The program resulted in increases in employment, reduced risks of suicide, fewer hospitalizations and lower rates of homelessness. In its first year, healthcare and related costs dropped by 52 percent, saving over $1 million.

"I am very proud of the staff and appreciate the contributions of the Mental Health Association of Westchester and the Empowerment Center- our partners in this program," said Dr. Grant Mitchell, commissioner of Community Mental Health. "The focus was on achieving improved health outcomes for individuals, but the results demonstrate that better care can also be less expensive."