- Philadelphia’s Operations Transformation Fund is a $10 million grant to support city initiatives with a focus on innovative programs.
- The Office of Sustainability received $261,000 to address environmental injustices in the Eastwick neighborhood of Philadelphia impacted by flooding.
- The Department of Prisons received $300,000 to expand access to telehealth services for incarcerated people.
The City of Philadelphia is putting $10 million towards supporting innovation coming out of its city departments.
The fund, known as the Operations Transformation Fund (OTF), was launched in August 2021 and is funding initiatives through this year and 2023.
“We decided to launch the OTF in part because of what we saw during the pandemic. We learned that government has a tremendous capacity to innovate and to be transformative in what it does,” Stephanie Tipton, chief administrative officer of Philadelphia, told The Plug.
“There were pervasive inequities in a lot of the services and things that we were doing as a government. So not only do we want to develop services that perhaps are more efficient and effective, but [also] ensure that we are reducing disparities when we’re providing those services,” Tipton said.
The $10 million grant is funding 29 initiatives across more than two dozen departments. The money for the fund comes from the federal American Rescue Plan, also called the COVID-19 Stimulus Package.
The city has developed a public dashboard where residents can track the status of projects with the goal of bringing more transparency to local government programs.
The Plug spoke with various program leaders to learn how their respective initiatives will benefit Philadelphia residents.
Addressing environmental injustice
The Office of Sustainability received $261,000 to build the Place-Based Initiatives to address the history of racial and environmental injustice in the Eastwick neighborhood in Philadelphia, a majority Black area.
The city of Philadelphia has placed additional focus in the last few years on addressing the disproportionate vulnerabilities to climate change that impoverished communities and communities of color face, in part due to racially-biased policies and practices like redlining.
“Eastwick is facing a future of climate uncertainty with worsening storms and precipitation changes” Korin Tangtrakul, the program manager of Place-Based Initiatives, told The Plug.
One of the major issues facing Eastwick is flooding from the convergence of the Darby and Cobbs Creeks. During heavy rainstorms, they overflow and flood waters are subsequently trapped in Eastwick. The effects of climate change could worsen flooding, Tangtrakul explained.
The neighborhood is also impacted by the surrounding airport, highways and landfills.
The office is working with community organizations in Eastwick like Eastwick United CDC to identify what residents need through the initiative. One of the goals is to facilitate collaboration between the Eastwick organizations and city, state and federal partners like the Army Corps of Engineers and the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
The sustainability office has held three town halls thus far to give residents a space to share concerns. The initiative is considering solutions such as a levee and wetland restoration for flood resilience measures.
The Office of Emergency Management also received $550,000 through the OTF to update its alert and warning system. The office plans to work in tandem with the Eastwick initiative to create a pilot program exploring what messages Eastwick residents need to prepare and react to calamities like flooding.
Planning for the Eastwick initiative will take a couple of years, Tangtrakul said, so the office is applying for additional funding from sources like the FEMA BRIC program.
Part of the OTF grant has gone towards hiring a program strategist who serves as a liaison to the community to answer and address any quality-of-life questions. The office also gave $10,000 to Eastwick United to kickstart a program to restore homes damaged in 2020 by Tropical Storm Isaias.
One of the goals of the initiative is to replicate the Eastwick framework to address other environmental injustices across Philadelphia.
Other initiatives on the docket
The Philadelphia Department of Prisons (PDP) received $300,000 through the OTF for its Telehealth Service Expansion project to enhance the current use of telemedicine for incarcerated people.
The grant is being used to purchase eight mobile telemedicine units with cameras and instrumentation to see incarcerated patients who are in quarantine due to COVID-19, for example. The units are being held at the Curran-Fromhold Correctional Facility with the plan to install them in the PDP’s three additional facilities.
In September, there were 4,536 people in the Philadelphia prison population, 72.4 percent of whom are Black, but the PDP sees about 20,000 people in a year, many of whom have medical conditions, substance use disorders and behavioral health conditions that do not get routine care “on the outside,” Bruce Herdman, the chief of medical operations of the PDP, told The Plug.
The OTF money is also going towards creating an electronic sick call request system to replace a paper request system.
“People often will say, ‘I put in six sick call requests and nobody saw me,’ and I’ll go into the medical record and find that there were no sick call requests that were submitted. But using an electronic system will be able to really validate that,” Herdman said. Switching to a new system will also allow the department to analyze how fast they are responding to inmates’ needs.
Another project being funded by the OTF is an apprenticeship program led by the Office of Innovation and Technology. The office received $225,000 to upskill current city employees of underrepresented backgrounds to get higher-paying roles in software engineering and user experience.
Creating the OTF dashboard gives the public a way to see how the local government is doing in terms of spending, reaching deadlines it sets and achieving the outcomes promised, Tipton said.
“Even if this administration may not see the fruits of all of this work, it’s really heartening to me to know that once a lot of these projects are implemented, they will have some very lofty outcomes,” Tipton said. “Our hope is that this can be a model moving forward when we’re doing these big projects in city government.”