Dunleavy again asks lawmakers to split Alaska’s DHSS into two agencies
Alaska Gov. Mike Dunleavy is making his second effort to separate the Department of Health and Social Services (DHSS) into two different departments.
Last year Dunleavy issued an executive order that would have split the department into the Department of Health (DOH) and the Department of Family and Community Services (DFCS).
The Alaska Constitution gives the governor the authority to use an executive order to make changes to the executive branch, according to information from Dunleavy’s office. The Legislature has 60 days to disapprove the order or it becomes law.
Last year’s executive order was withdrawn from the legislature because of “drafting errors,” according to an information page on the DHSS website.
The proposal drew some opposition from tribal and community groups in a January 2021 meeting of the Health and Social Services Committee.
The governor announced Friday that he would present another executive order to lawmakers when they meet on Jan. 18 for the 2022 legislative session.
The newly-formed DOH would include public health, public assistance, behavioral health, health care services and senior and disabilities services.
DFCS would include juvenile justice, the Alaska Psychiatric Institute, Alaska Pioneer Homes and children services.
The changes would not affect services and would mostly be “internal,” said DHSS Commissioner Adam Crum.
“This is to make sure that we have administrative and managerial alignment, getting burdens out of the way so that we can respond better to the general public and to innovative ideas,” Crum said in a video on a website created by the department to explain the change.
DHSS takes the biggest chunk out of the state budget and is the largest department. In fiscal year 2021, the department received $3.4 billion of the state’s $9.02 billion budget, according to figures from the governor’s office.
The department’s size is a hindrance when administering services such as Medicaid, which is the state’s most expensive budget item according to the website.
Alaskan lawmakers approved a bill in 2016 that would expand services to Medicaid recipients using telehealth services. But the department doesn’t have the “bandwidth” to reach its goals, state officials said.
“In our research, it became clear it is not standard practice to have this type of ‘mega-agency’ providing health and community services,” according to a statement on the website. “For example, Wyoming breaks these services into two departments and South Dakota spreads them across four departments.”
State officials said the two departments would serve the public better.
“The leadership of each department will be able to focus on work processes to maximize efficiencies and incorporate innovative ideas, with the mission of improving outcomes for the Alaskans that we serve,” according to a statement on the website.
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