Dunleavy administration again pursuing plans to split state health department

Published: Dec. 17, 2021 at 3:38 PM AKST
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JUNEAU, Alaska (KTUU) - Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s administration is again pursuing plans to split the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services in two.

Dunleavy issued an executive order to do that earlier in the year, but it was withdrawn in March after “drafting errors” were found. The governor is now planning to issue another executive order when the next legislative session begins in January.

A reorganization webpage has been launched to inform Alaskans about the plan to form the Department of Health and the Department of Family and Community Services. Commissioner Adam Crum said a lot had been learned over the past year after discussions with stakeholders.

The current department is the state’s largest. It’s in charge of running Medicaid, public assistance programs, foster care, Pioneer Homes and the Alaska Psychiatric Institute.

Crum said that splitting the “mega agency” is not about saving money, but that could happen in the longer term. Instead, it’s about improving and better aligning delivery of services.

“Medicaid dominates the conversation,” Crum said. “It takes all the air out of the room.”

The estimated cost of the split is around $2 million. Crum said he plans to nominate himself to be the new Department of Health commissioner while the governor looks for a commissioner of the other department.

During debates over the first 106-page executive order, some legislators had been concerned that the process had been rushed and that it would change laws rather than just departmental operations. Crum says this order won’t make “substantive law” changes.

Several legislators said they wanted to wait and see the text of the order before commenting on the proposal. Trevor Storrs, president of the Alaska Children’s Trust, made a similar statement.

“However, we look forward to working with the Governor’s office, DHSS, and the Legislature to continue ensuring children, youth, and families gain the supports needed to thrive,” he said by email.

Wasilla Republican Sen. David Wilson supports the concept of splitting the department and says the last two years dealing with COVID-19 has pushed the agency into focusing on the health side. Wilson added that he is interested in examining the order through the committee process.

After the order is officially issued, the Legislature has 60 days to decide if it wants to reject it. If legislators don’t do that, the order goes into effect on July 1.

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