Cook County Honored with 17 National Association of Counties Achievement Awards

 The awards honor innovative county government programs that modernize services for residents

The National Association of Counties (NACo) honored Cook County with 17 Achievement Awards. The 2021 NACo awards centered around two key elements including how projects advance equity where applicable and clear metrics that showcase the outcome of the project.

“I am grateful to NACo for the recognition of our programs and honoring our commitment to equity in the County,” said Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle. “The past year has been challenging for residents and employees alike, but we have persevered. Ensuring residents have equitable access to resources and tools needed to survive during the pandemic continues to be a top priority and I’m incredibly proud of the work we’ve been able to accomplish as we work to keep County residents safe and healthy.”  

The following Cook County departments and programs were recognized:

1. Cook County Health: Managing and Mitigating COVID-19 in a Large County Jail
Category: County Administration and Management
Cook County Jail (CCJ) faced a challenge to manage and mitigate the spread of COVID-19 after hundreds of detainees and correctional officers began testing positive. By implementing widespread testing, adding and reconfiguring housing for detainees, practicing relentless social distancing and universal masking of staff and detainees along with extensive quarantining of COVID-19 cases, CCJ saw a dramatic drop in the positivity rate and a major drop in the number of cases at their facility.

2. Animal and Rabies Control: Wildlife Surveillance Initiative
Category: Health
The Wildlife Surveillance Initiative was initiated in 2018 with the University of Illinois Zoological Pathology Program to help survey disease, a critical component of ongoing and effective wildlife management. Animal Control wardens impounding wildlife take specimens for necropsy, especially in unusual circumstances. All wildlife submitted for evaluation are reported back to the department, which then determines what information needs to be distributed throughout the County. 

3. Bureau of Economic Development - 2020 Census Outreach
Category: Civic Education and Public Information
Cook County’s 2020 Census Outreach Program goal was to increase awareness, promote self-response and improve the self-response rates from the 2010 Census, with a focus on hard to count communities throughout Cook County. Through partnerships, grants and a targeted media marketing campaign, the County was able to increase its final self-response rate by 1.3% to 67.4% compared to 2010.

4. Department of Environment and Sustainability/Bureau of Asset Management - Clean Energy Plan
Category: County Resiliency: Infrastructure, Energy and Sustainability
Cook County responded to today’s environmental and economic challenges by creating a Clean Energy Plan that cuts across the County’s own infrastructure. The Plan builds on the successes of the County’s earlier efforts to reduce its own emissions. It specifically outlines the actions needed to reduce County buildings’ emissions by 45% by 2030, to be carbon neutral by 2050 and to have 100% renewable electricity for County owned and operated buildings by 2030.

5. Bureau of Economic Development - COVID-19 Small Business Assistance
Category: Community and Economic Development
Cook County’s COVID-19 Small Business Assistance Program provided $10,000 grants to small businesses who urgently required access to funding to survive and adapt to the negative effects of COVID-19. Utilizing CARES Act funding, Cook County dedicated $19.1 million to provide grants to 1,690 businesses, offer advising services to over 3,500 businesses and to assist these firms in safely navigating the realities of the new business environment.

6. Human Resources/Facilities Management - COVID-19 Safe Re-Entry
Category: Risk and Emergency Management
Cook County’s elected officials collaborated to create policies that ensured County business was conducted in a safe and effective manner during the pandemic. This effort was comprised of two overarching elements that included prioritized safe re-entry procedures in all County facilities as well as clear lines of communication and training to ensure employees were comfortable with re-entry and prepared to effectively serve residents amid new constraints.

7. Cook County Health - Housing is Health: Partnering to Establish a Medical Respite Center
Category: Health
Cook County Health partnered with the City of Chicago to design, implement and operate two medical respite centers (MRCs) to address the needs of housing insecure patients that included COVID-19 positive individuals. The first MRC successfully housed 51 clients for their full COVID-19 isolation period. The second MRC accepted 15 of 17 referrals from health care partners for post-acute care discharges.

8. President’s Office - Healing Spaces: Confronting Change Across the County and Country
Category: Personnel Management, Employment and Training
Cook County’s Healing Spaces creates a brave space for people to process current events with their peers. This program opens and facilitates dialogue on how world events connect to individual and collective work to advance equity across the County. Ultimately, this program challenges County employees’ understanding of history and social narratives in order to better understand the far-reaching impacts on employees personal and professional lives.

9. Department of Revenue - Tax K9
Category: Financial Management
To help enforce the Cook County Tobacco Tax that was enacted in 1980, the Cook County Department of Revenue developed the Tobacco Detection K9 Program. The program includes a thoroughly trained tobacco detecting canine and handlers to detect hidden compartments on premises that contain cigarettes without the required Cook County tax stamp.

10. Department of Risk Management - Employee Group Health Benefits: Reaching our Members
Category: Personnel Management, Employment and Training
The Department of Risk Management’s Employee Benefits Division leveraged Countywide technological improvements to provide a completely virtual open enrollment experience for 20,000 employees as well as their 30,000 dependents to make health, wellness and financial selections for the betterment of themselves and their families.

11. Medical Examiner/Bureau of Technology - Medical Examiner COVID-19 Dashboard
Category: Health
In April 2020, the Cook County Medical Examiner’s Office and Bureau of Technology teamed up to provide the public with crucial information about COVID-19 deaths. They created first-of their-kind interactive dashboards, maps and an open dataset providing the public with a geographic visualization of every COVID-19 death since the beginning of the pandemic. This program was created to provide transparency and real-time data to public health agencies, researchers, law enforcement, journalists and the broader public as Cook County grappled with the COVID pandemic.

12. Risk Management - Workers Compensation: Backoffice Process Improvements
Category: County Administration and Management
The Department of Risk Management’s Workers’ Compensation Division administers all aspects of the Illinois Workers’ Compensation Act for more than 20,000 Cook County employees. The goals for this program are to manage the financial resources of the County and to resolve claims in a timely manner. Improvements include reduced payment issuance time, reduced in-house vendor payment volume and clerical tasks as well as more standardized, granular and transparent cost reporting.

13. Department of Transportation and Highways - Fair Transit: From Study to Pilot
Category: Transportation
Fair Transit South Cook is a three-year pilot project that aims to improve transit service and lower costs for the residents on the south side of Chicago, south suburban Cook and north Will Counties. The program offers up to 50% fare reduction on Metra’s Electric and Rock Island lines as well as improved and extended hours of service on Pace Route 352 Halsted. By maximizing the use of existing transportation assets and making transit services more affordable and convenient, the County is correcting historic disinvestment to provide residents who live in South Cook easier access to jobs and other opportunities.

14. Bureau of Finance – Equity Distribution Model of CARES Act Funding to Suburban Municipalities
Category: County Administration and Management
Cook County developed a unique method to distribute $51 million of CARES Act funding to 129 municipalities located within Cook County. Two-thirds of the funding was allocated using an equity score assigned to each municipality. The equity score formula was developed by Cook County with assistance from the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning. Municipalities with higher equity scores were given a greater allocation of CARES Act funding. This model ensured the County’s most vulnerable communities could continue providing services in a period of immense social, economic and political volatility.

15. Bureau of Administration/Bureau of Human Resources/Bureau of Technology: Tech Tuesday
Category: Personnel Management, Employment and Training
The Tech Tuesday program was started in April 2020, in response to the rapid shift to remote work for employees due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Many employees were not comfortable working remotely and had limited exposure to remote work tools. The goal of Tech Tuesday is to help County employees to become more comfortable with technology tools and to better use them in their day-to-day work and collaboration. The result has been a robust cross-agency community of learning that creates an environment not only to learn but to share ideas.

16. Law Library - Digital Access & Literacy: New Possibilities
Category: Libraries
When the COVID-19 pandemic required libraries to close, the Cook County Law Library developed a remote access program to ensure that County residents were able to access legal information from their homes. This program ensured a continuity of services for County residents.

17. Assessor’s Office - File Smarter, Not Harder: How the Assessor’s Office Went Digital
Category: Information Technology
For the first time in the history of the Cook County Assessor's Office, applications for property tax exemptions and all property assessment appeals were fully accessible online. Residents can now track the status of their filings and employees no longer have to process and file paper-based appeals and exemption applications.

For more information about each of Cook County’s 2021 NACo Achievement Awards, please visit the awards database.

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