Alaska Department of Health and Social Services Is Splitting, By Executive Order
An executive order to split the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services (DHSS) into two new departments is going forward, after the legislature declined to block it.
The Fifteenth Department
Governor Mike Dunleavy issued Executive Order 121 on January 18 to divide DHSS into a Department of Health and a Department of Family and Community Services. The legislature had a 60-day window to vote in a joint session whether to disapprove. That period expired without the House and Senate taking action, so the order becomes law. The transition takes effect July 1.
Dunleavy pointed to the immense size of DHSS as a reason to break up the department. Its $3.4 billion annual budget is more than twelve other state departments combined (excluding only the Department of Education and Early Development’s $2 billion), plus the budgets of the legislative and judicial branches. Its 3,200 employees are more than the six smallest departments combined. Dunleavy argued that this size contributes to a lack of focus.
“Reorganization will create an environment for innovation and greater responsiveness,” Dunleavy says. “The two departments will be able to manage their programs more efficiently and more responsibly to the constituents they serve. And they’ll be able to work on long-term strategic goals such as focused stakeholder engagement, federal partner negotiations, and Alaska-specific solutions for healthcare.”
The new Department of Health will encompass the DHSS responsibilities for public assistance, public health, facilities licensing, and Medicaid. The Department of Family and Community Services is composed of the DHSS divisions of Finance and Management Services and, more visibly, Family, Community, and Integrated Services. That division oversees the Office of Children’s Services, which regulates foster homes; the Division of Juvenile Justice, which operates detention facilities such as McLaughlin Youth Center in Anchorage; the Alaska Psychiatric Institute next door; and the seven Pioneer Homes for senior citizens.
DHSS Commissioner Adam Crum is slated to continue to lead the Department of Health. No one is yet nominated to lead the Department of Family and Community Services, but its two main DHSS divisions are currently led by Deputy Commissioner Clinton Lasley and Assistant Commissioner Sylvan Robb.
Crum believes the transition will be seamless for those served by DHSS. “The reorganization was designed to not disrupt services to beneficiaries or payments to providers,” he says. “These two departments allow for proper management and support to work on improving critical services delivered to and for Alaskans.”
The split gives the Department of Health the bulk of the DHSS budget—more than $3 billion—and 1,446 employees. The Department of Family and Community Services, separated from the DHSS responsibility for Medicaid and public assistance payments, has a much tinier budget of $430 million for its 1,820 employees working at state-owned facilities.
A separate executive order changing the name of the Division of Forestry within the Department of Natural Resources also takes effect, for lack of legislative disapproval. Effective July 1, the agency becomes the Division of Forestry and Fire Protection, reflecting its growing responsibility for wildland firefighting.
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