Rep. Katie Dempsey

New ways of sharing data across state agencies are expected to emerge during the upcoming session of the Georgia General Assembly.

"It's the key to how we can address very specific needs, but we have to break down the silos," said Rep. Katie Dempsey, R-Rome.

Dempsey and Sen. Chuck Hufstetler, R-Rome, co-chaired a joint committee on data-sharing last year but political skirmishes in the run-up to the elections stalled legislation in both chambers.

The push for a centralized database to make it easier and more cost-efficient to deliver healthcare and other social services, however, remains alive.

"I have several allies working with me on data analytics," Hufstetler said. "We're still working on where it would be housed, but I expect to introduce that this session."

Georgia spends billions of dollars a year on health and social programs but there's no way to determine if residents are getting overlapping services or falling through cracks. That's because each agency keeps separate case records; each agency is a separate silo.

Dempsey — who chairs the House Appropriations subcommittee on human resources — said she saw several examples last week of how merged data could help when she met with Division of Family and Children Services officials.

Calls reporting abuse and neglect are on the rise, she said, and DFCS needs a way to prioritize them without breaking client confidentiality.

"If we had de-identified specific data ... the person making the call would be doing their duty to report a potentially bad situation, but the screener could quickly access the data to see if there's been issues at that place before," Dempsey explained.

Sharing data also could help target people at risk for addiction and get them intervention services before it's too late, she noted.

In a presentation to the joint committee, Cynthia Guy of the nonprofit Annie E. Casey Foundation said a small number of people use a disproportionate amount of state resources. Guy told of a successful initiative in Oregon that integrates birth records and parental data to zero in on families that could benefit from early preventative services.

Hufstetler worked closely with the Casey Foundation in 2018 and even had a grant lined up to send state technicians for training through the University of Pennsylvania’s Actionable Intelligence for Social Policy center.

He's still focused on creating a new entity to oversee a centralized system, similar to what an increasing number of states are doing. Dempsey indicated that might remain a hot-button issue, but said she believes there will be movement on data-sharing this year.

"We can find ways through existing structures, such as using the budget to help those agencies that are ready and willing to do it," she said. "I think we're on the cusp of being able to figure out how to be more lifesaving and fiscally responsible for our state."