UDHS executive director Tracy Gruber discusses health department integration

Tracy Gruber, the executive director of the Utah Department of Human Services (DHS), said the state is prepared to take on its ambitious, recently passed plan to integrate DHS with the Utah Department of Health (UDOH). In a one-on-one conversation with State of Reform Host DJ Wilson at our recent Utah conference, Gruber described the plan and how Utah plans to approach the consolidation.

“Not only will the consolidation lead to a more inclusive public health system, [but] the consolidation will place the individuals receiving services at the center of the system design rather than government.”


Get the latest state-specific policy intelligence for the health care sector delivered to your inbox.


Gruber described the “robust transition” on the state’s horizon, which includes a deadline for presenting a consolidation plan to the governor by Dec. 1, 2021. The state aims to have a consolidated Utah Department of Health and Human Services by July 1, 2022. 


Image: Utah Department of Human Services


“The current complexity of accessing services in the web of programs make it time-consuming and difficult to easily access and coordinate these services effectively, and the consolidation provides an opportunity to improve service delivery at the local level, through the local health and mental health authorities to ensure citizens throughout the state also have access to coordinated behavioral and physical health care where they reside.”

She explained that most beneficiaries of DHS services also receive services through UDOH — making the case for integration.


Image: Utah Department of Human Services


DJ asked Gruber to describe how the state plans to navigate the difficulties of merging two separate departments.

Gruber said one of the main difficulties will be managing the complexity of both departments and working to integrate the various parts of each entity. For instance, she said there are over 250 different tech applications between UDOH and DHS.

“Some of the barriers and challenges are [things] that are more at the background of government and not quite as visible, which [are] around coordinating a really complex web of funding streams at the federal level that have not just different requirements on how the money could be spent, but different eligibility requirements.”

Saying the departments will “work better in proximity,” she is nonetheless hopeful about the complicated integration of contracts, eligibility, case management and more. She feels that Utah has established a clear goal for what the department will look like and is confident the two departments can come together and accomplish it.


Image: Utah Department of Human Services


While she is similarly optimistic about the integration of the two different workplace cultures, she believes this integration will take the longest.

“It’s kind of odd to say that. We’re all part of Utah state government, we’ve all been working under Gov. Cox or Gov. Herbert. You would think that that kind of organizational culture would be somewhat similar, but it really isn’t, and it will take us time to change that culture and bring our staff together through that vision.”

Gruber encouraged community input on the consolidation process, which can be given here.