Politics

Dunleavy administration revives proposal to split Alaska’s health and social services department in two

JUNEAU — Alaska Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s administration plans again to pursue splitting the state health department into two after a similar proposal was withdrawn earlier this year for additional work.

Dunleavy’s new budget proposal calls for breaking the current Department of Health and Social Services into a Department of Health and a Department of Family and Community Services.

He is expected at the start of the next legislative session in January to issue an executive order calling for the split. Once the order is introduced, lawmakers would have 60 days to decide whether to reject it; otherwise it would become law and would take effect July 1, according to information provided by the Department of Health and Social Services.

[As oil and investments earn more for Alaska, the state could see its first deficit-free budget in 10 years]

Dunleavy’s office cited “technical issues” in pulling a prior executive order in March.

Health Commissioner Adam Crum told reporters Thursday that there have been efforts over the last year to address concerns raised by affected groups and people and to explain the department’s work. One idea that came from those discussions was a need for someone in each of the proposed new departments to be a public point of contact for issues that might come up as the split is implemented, Crum said.

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According to the Department of Health and Social Services, the proposed Department of Health would include divisions that provide regulatory oversight and claims processing for Medicaid programs. The Department of Family and Community Services would include the Division of Juvenile Justice, Office of Children’s Services, Alaska Pioneer Homes and the Alaska Psychiatric Institute.

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Reorganization is intended to improve operations and delivery of services, the department said. Each of the proposed new departments would have its own commissioner, deputy commissioner and special assistants.

Crum called the plan one “we believe in.”

“This is a plan that actually started from staff, that was brought forward by directors. And we moved this ahead because it’s the best way to serve Alaskans as we go into the future,” he said.

The Department of Health and Social Services is the largest department in state government.

Trevor Storrs, president and CEO of the Alaska Children’s Trust, said he was not ready to comment on the plan because he has not been able to review it.

“Our stance on everything is that no matter which direction this goes in, our ultimate goal is to ensure that the services that are being provided and the safety net being provided to our children and families is not only continued and but hopefully strengthened,” Storrs said. “Our goal is to ensure that is achieved.”

Becky Bohrer, Associated Press

Becky Bohrer is a reporter for the Associated Press based in Juneau.

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