Dunleavy withdraws Executive Order to reorganize Alaska DHSS

Gov. Mike Dunleavy withdrew Executive Order 119 from consideration Thursday after a hearing in the House Health and Social Services Committee on HSCR 1 raised concerns about the executive order.

 

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The executive order would have restructured the Department of Health and Social Services into two separate departments: the Department of Health and the Department of Family and Community Services. This order has drawn criticism from many groups since it was announced.

House Special Concurrent Resolution 1 was the House’s response to the governor’s plan and would have disapproved of the executive order. In the state constitution of Alaska, unless an executive order is disapproved of within 60 days of a regular session, the executive order goes into effect. 

This resolution passed out of the House HHS Committee with a vote of six in favor and one against, and was then transmitted to the Senate. This all happened on Wednesday.

In the committee meeting, Rep. Tiffany Zulkosky said:

“While the department has clearly demonstrated the need for improvements in the way services are delivered, what has not been demonstrated is that Executive Order 119 is the vehicle to do so. Instead it has become clear through committee consideration of the executive order that EO 119 is wrought with program, legal and fiscal ambiguities that carry real consequences for Alaskans.”

Amanda Metivier, co-founder of Facing Foster Care in Alaska, testified against the executive order in written testimony.

“It has been suggested that the proposal to split DHSS will promote improvements at the Office of Children’s Services (OCS). Evidence as to how an additional Commissioners office and high level staff will improve outcomes for children and families has not been offered. The proposed split would go into effect July 1st, but children and families cannot wait.”

Andrew Jimmie, chairman of the Alaska Native Health Board (ANHB), said that the lack of details provided on the bifurcation caused the members of ANHB to be skeptical about the outcome of the proposal.

“We are alarmed that the Governor released Executive Order 119 before receiving any input from the affected communities or Tribal governments. Specifically, Tribes and tribal organizations were not consulted on the implications of the proposal, especially on the potential impacts for the child welfare system. Given systemic disproportionality that 65% of children in State care are Alaska Native, and Tribes and tribal organizations work to administer many of the programs within their regions for these children, Tribes should have been fundamentally involved in the decision-making process.”

Jimmie also said that their members are concerned about the separation of the state Medicaid program and the Division of Behavioral Health from the Office of Children’s Services.

“This reorganization raises serious concerns about the ability of these programs to coordinate support for their respective beneficiaries while also maintaining compliance with all regulations, including HIPAA. Beneficiaries of these programs are an exceptionally vulnerable population who are already challenged by the complexities of accessing services. At this point, it is unclear how these two departments will work together in administering the Medicaid program, nor how such bifurcation will improve outcomes.”

Lastly he said that undertaking this bifurcation in the current economic climate and in the middle of a pandemic seemed challenging.

“Reallocating resources away from DHSS to stand up the new Department will compromise both entities and any operational efficiencies that could occur will take time to achieve. In the near term, we are more likely to face inefficiencies attributed to start-up time and lost resources; not to mention additional funding that may be needed from the legislature. At this time, we cannot afford such setbacks.”

After Dunleavy rescinded his order, Zulkosky said:

“We’ve said from the beginning of this process that we’re open to working with the administration to address the challenges within the Department of Health and Social Services. With a restructuring of this magnitude, it is important to ensure a collaborative process that includes the diverse perspectives of health stakeholders, Tribal partners, the Legislature, and the public at large. I’m grateful to the governor and his administration for listening to the concerns raised during the committee process and for the willingness to hit the reset button.”

Representative Liz Snyder added:

“Good things happen when everyone at the table listens to one another. Lawmakers, the administration, and everyone who engaged throughout this process expressed a commitment to working together to make sure the Department of Health and Social Services serves Alaskans as effectively as possible. I am grateful for all of the Department’s work and successes, but it is clear that improvements need to be made. The executive order started a much-needed conversation, and I look forward to its continuation.”