This morning, I was pleased to join Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake as she announced three winning proposals for Baltimore City Government’s first Innovation Fund. Mayor Rawlings-Blake created the $1 million fund this year to provide seed money for City agency program investments that will lead to long-term improved results and/or reduced operating costs but that require a “start-up” investment. The three proposals will cost a total of roughly $700,000, will save over $250,000 each year in operating costs, and could generate as much as $1.4 million annually in new revenue.
Two of the three proposals selected originated from the Health Department. The first grant for $128,000 will bring our Environmental Health inspection program into the computer age by equipping our sanitarians with handheld computer devices so they can fill out electronic inspection reports in the field. The second proposal for $174,000 will be used to upgrade the information systems at the BDC Laboratory, enabling us to expand to serve outside clients. A third winning proposal for the Department of Housing also was announced.
These awards are well deserved and will set the bar for future innovations. They exemplify the department’s goal of using technology and innovation to increase efforts in improving the City’s health. I look forward to seeing these projects come to fruition.
Here's a more detailed description of our two winning proposals:
Environmental Health – Quality Management System
We conduct over 11,500 federal, state, and city-mandated inspections annually, which includes more than 5,000 food facilities, 339 daycare and family day care centers, 325 schools, 52 recreation centers, 140 swimming pools, 180 tattoo operations, and over 3,800 complaint and disease outbreak investigations annually. In addition, we issue and collect over $2.1 million in annual licenses and inspection fees.
I recently accompanied one of our sanitarians on a visit and saw for myself the paper intensive nature of an inspection. Moving to an electronic system will allow sanitarians to move away from paper and pen inspections, manual inputting and extraction of data, paper files, and inefficient record keeping.
The grant award will pay for purchasing hand-held devices that capture all investigations and inspections conducted. Sanitarians will complete their inspection reports electronically in the field and later upload them into a database. Business owners will receive an email with inspection results on the same day!
Additional benefits include creating a web tool for allowing business owners to apply online for a new business or operating license or renew an existing license. Businesses will also be able to schedule plan review inspections online. Inspection reports for all licensed facilities captured through the QMS will be accessible through OpenBaltimore.
We anticipate that the city should recoup its investment within two years due to the estimated revenue generated and costs savings realized. In addition, we project that at least 30 minutes will be saved from standard inspections. This means that we’ll be able to spend more time helping businesses remain in compliance by focusing on quality control and education – the core of our business as a public health entity.
The system is expected to be fully operational by March 2012.
The BDC Laboratory has supported the Department’s communicable disease control efforts for more than 20 years. CLIA-88 Highly Complex Laboratory is accredited by the Commission on Laboratory Accreditation (COLA) and fully licensed by the federal and state governments. The BDC Laboratory has continually improved its efficiency by constantly employing increasingly more sensitive and more efficient testing platforms.
However, much of the lab’s efficiency is attributable to its use of novel software system that was developed in 1992. The software is too antiquated to be upgraded and is vulnerable to virus attacks. If the computers fail, it would require four full-time data entry clerks to manually enter and print results, a function the computerized system performs.
Not only will we be rejuvenating the information system, but we’ll be expanding to offer services to outside clients such as clinics, federally qualified health centers, and community based organizations. This will will generate additional revenue to support the laboratory and help these partner control their costs.
By realizing certain process efficiencies, a new system is expected to save the city more than $136,000 annually, in addition to the additional revenue that will be generated.
These are but two of the innovative ideas generated by the health department that were funded through the Mayor’s innovation fund. Our team at the Health Department is constantly pushing itself to do more, so I anticipate that we’ll be reporting on additional innovations in the near future.