JUNEAU, Alaska (KTUU) — The Alaska Department of Health and Human Services, the state’s largest agency, officially split into two on Friday, but work to uncouple the two new departments is a long way off. to be finished.
The mega-agency’s split into the Department of Health and the Department of Family and Community Services was first proposed in December 2020. Governor Mike Dunleavy issued an executive order to split the department, but it was later withdrawn when technical errors have been discovered.
Dunleavy issued a second executive order in January. Lawyers for the Alaska Legislature raised potential drafting issues with the ordinance and its scope, but the split was not opposed by the legislature, and the department was split in two on July 1.
“The Department of Health and the Department of Family and Community Services are legally operational entities effective immediately,” Commissioner Adam Crum of the new Department of Health said Friday.
The Department of Family and Community Services is expected to have 1,847 employees and will be the third-largest agency in the state after the Department of Transportation and Public Facilities and the Department of Corrections.
Newly appointed Acting Commissioner Kim Kovol will lead the new agency, which will oversee the child welfare system, Alaska Psychiatric Institute, Alaska Pioneer Homes and Juvenile Justice Division. .
“To provide support, safety, and personal well-being to vulnerable Alaskans,” will be the agency’s mission statement.
It will be represented by a logo of colorful figures in a circle, “representing families and communities working hand in hand and showing the diversity of both the peoples and the geography of our great state”.
The new Department of Health will have 1,446 employees and will be the fourth largest government agency in the state. He will oversee health care services, behavioral health, services for the elderly and disabled, and Medicaid. Its mission statement will be “To promote the health, well-being, and self-sufficiency of Alaskans.”
Its new logo will feature a musher behind a team of sled dogs, referencing the Nome serum race.
“Communities come together to provide remote health care, which is what we do in Alaska,” Crum said.
The stated goal of the split has been to better align the delivery of essential services, and there have been hopes that could save the state money in the long run. Medicaid was described as overwhelming for one commissioner, now there will be another department head who can focus on other issues.
The two departments’ websites launched on Monday, and there were start-up issues with some links not working, but officials say those issues have largely been resolved. The plan throughout the months-long process to carve up the department has been to make it as seamless as possible for Alaskans who rely on its essential services.
“I hope so,” Crum said when asked if it could be achieved. “We really tried to set it up that way.”
There will still be overlaps between the two departments. The Cybersecurity Division will serve both agencies as it works with the federal government to ensure health care confidentiality rules are followed.
Last year’s cyberattack on the department, which took key services out of service for months, also helped keep the division intact. Sylvan Robb, Deputy Commissioner of the Department of Health, said all of these services are working online again, but there is some background coding work going on to “make us more robust”.
The completion of the split, with all the behind-the-scenes complexities that go along with it, is expected to take at least a year to complete. Some issues may require targeted legislative changes, but for the most part it should be largely business as usual.
“I think for the next couple of months things are going to kind of stay at the status quo as we shut down the Department of Health and Human Services,” said Marian Sweet, assistant commissioner of the Department of Family and Community Services. “But everyone is very excited and excited about the start of this new business with these two new departments, and it’s really fun times.”
Robb described some bookkeeping and payroll issues that will need to be resolved, but she said “everything is going well.”
At least two partner organizations are not yet reporting any issues, but it is expected that there will be some minor “glitches” during the long transition.
Jared Kosin, head of the new Alaska Hospital & Healthcare Association, said the trade group, which represents the state’s largest hospitals, has no concerns. He supported the process and Kosin said the dialogue with state officials had been open and transparent.
“We don’t hear anything from our members,” he added. “And so far so good.”
Trevor Storrs, president and CEO of Alaska Children’s Trust, also lent his support, but stressed that this was “just the beginning” and that “fingers crossed, it’s going well.”
“The process has just begun and the conversations with the commissioner and his team have been very positive,” Storrs noted. “I know they are continually reaching out to partners and providing a status report.”
The cost of the split had been estimated at $2.3 million to hire 13 new positions, and another 10 positions were to be reclassified. Some have been filled while interviews are underway for others. Those cost estimates were largely accurate, Robb said, except for a few small unforeseen costs, such as buying an office for the new commissioner.
“We are mostly, mostly on track with what has been proposed,” she added.
A big change is the hundreds of state employees who now work for one of two new state agencies. There have been outreach activities, meetings and reflections as colleagues change roles.
“We have a lot of employees who have been with the Department of Health and Human Services for 20 or 30 years,” Crum said. “And so recognizing that you’re going from one thing, that you’ve worked at that job for so long, and what the opportunities are for the next.”
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