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Gov. Dunleavy orders investigation into whether the state improperly shared Alaskans’ contact information

The Department of Health and Social Services headquarters in Juneau.
The Department of Health and Social Services headquarters in Juneau.
Published: Apr. 16, 2021 at 5:09 PM AKDT
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - Gov. Mike Dunleavy has ordered an investigation into the state’s own Department of Health and Social Services over what he called “unauthorized” sharing of data.

A news release Thursday from Dunleavy’s office claimed, “...a group of Alaskans were contacted by individuals working on behalf of the Municipality of Anchorage about COVID-19 vaccine information. The Municipality received the names and contact information of those individuals through an unauthorized action by staff at the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services.”

A statement from the Anchorage Acting Mayor’s Office characterized the governor’s announcement as “unexpected,” and the Anchorage Health Department (AHD) said Friday it was working in partnership with the state to reach out to residents at the request of DHSS.

The morning after Acting Anchorage Mayor Austin Quinn-Davidson announced a goal for the community to get 70 percent of eligible community members vaccinated, Barbara Carrick said she received a call from someone asking whether she had been vaccinated.

She said she told the caller she had not and that she wasn’t interested, then started asking questions about how the woman got her contact information.

“It’s invasive because, number one it’s a health issue, and you’re calling me, and I don’t have to share this information with even my neighbor or somebody in the grocery store,” Carrick said.

She said she felt “pushed” to get vaccinated, and did not like receiving the call.

Carrick is one of 1,275 residents the AHD and AM Trace, a contractor with a data agreement with the Municipality, called using contact information provided by the state.

“DHSS shared limited contact information, transmitted securely, with municipal staff and requested that we help the vaccination effort by connecting with seniors in Anchorage who might need assistance signing up for a vaccine appointment,” Chelsea Ward-Waller, a spokesperson with AHD, wrote in an emailed statement.

The purpose of the calls to Anchorage seniors — which were informational in nature — was to “identify potential barriers to vaccine and support them in accessing vaccine appointments if interested,” Ward-Waller wrote.

The AHD provided a copy of the script the contractor was using to contact residents. The callers were to start by asking whether the individual had received a COVID-19 vaccine.

If the answer was no, the caller was to ask the following questions:

  • Do you need help with scheduling your vaccine?
  • Do you have any questions about the vaccines that we can answer?
  • Is there anything you need to move forward with getting vaccinated?

“If they insist that they are not interested in getting vaccinated, say ‘Thank you very much for your time and have a nice day.’” the script says.

“The Anchorage Health Department is committed to helping any eligible individual who wants to get vaccinated access a vaccine,” Ward-Waller wrote. “Not everyone wants to get vaccinated, and we have not — and will never — mandate or coerce vaccinations.”

The city has taken the position that it acted in good faith, in the interest of public health and at the request of the state.

Friday, during a news conference, Alaska’s News Source asked Gov. Dunleavy to elaborate on his concerns.

“There are sharing agreements that are agreements that are legal with (memorandums of understanding) and so forth,” he said. “We just want to make sure that that everything was followed. We’re concerned, again, that there may have been a couple steps that were missed. We don’t know until we conduct the investigation and then get the information after that.”

Dunleavy said he wanted Alaskans to know there was not a data breach, but rather a “data share” that he believes should not have happened in the way it did.

“As of today, over 50% of the eligible population in Anchorage has already received their first dose,” the statement from the mayor’s office read. “We set a community goal to get 70% of eligible residents vaccinated as a benchmark of our progress, and it is within reach.”

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