WASHINGTON—Hurricane Katrina devastated VA medical centers in New Orleans and Gulfport, Miss., but it didn't touch the medical records of their 40,000 veterans.
That's because the Department of Veterans Affairs—unlike many health care providers—now keeps its health records electronically and centrally. So the health history for a vet who has a heart attack 1,000 miles from home is as handy to the nearest VA doctor as it is to the vet's hometown doctors.
This innovation, which has also saved thousands of lives by assuring that susceptible vets get timely vaccinations, is one of seven bright ideas in government that'll win $100,000 recognition grants Monday.
Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government sponsors the awards, along with the Washington-based nonprofit Council for Excellence in Government. Winners were selected from 1,000 federal, state and county government nominees from 50 states.
The Washington D.C. Police Department's six-year-old Gay and Lesbian Liaison Unit is another winner. It focuses on crimes committed against and by gay and lesbian residents, improving protection of an estimated 10 percent of the city's population.
"If you're a closeted person and a crime is committed against you, you're less likely to report it but you're also less likely to tell the police as much information about it," explained Carl Fillichio, a spokesman for the award-granting excellence council. "Now, we're seeing a community where most people know the names of their police officers."
According to Fillichio, winning projects meet four standards: novelty, effectiveness, significance, and transferability.
The winners do what government always does—fight crime, educate kids, aid the desperate—Fillichio continued. "They're just doing it differently and better, with better results, and they're often more cost-effective," Fillichio said. "Innovation is hard and these are people who have taken real risks and they have tangible results. Other mayors, other police chiefs can now go to these folks."
Another winner is the Broward County, Fla., Urban Academies program. It helps inner-city students to pursue teaching careers—and also improves the teacher retention rate.
Students in its "Grow Your Own Teachers" project, starting in high school, follow a customized curriculum and training regimen on through college and job placement. It's added 360 teachers in hard-to-staff schools. Nine out of 10 last longer than three years, compared to a national average of two-thirds. What's more, an unusually high one-fourth are male.
More than 400 projects have won Innovation in American Government Awards since the program began in 1986 to help offset negative perceptions of government work.
"We thought if we shined a bright spotlight on programs that were really doing extraordinary things, and if we'd give them money to replicate these things, the American public would have a better sense of what their government does," said Fillichio.
For more on the winners and the Council for Excellence in Government, go to: www.excelgov.org
(c) 2006, McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.
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