DOH and DHS present merger update to legislature

The Utah Department of Health (DOH) and the Utah Department of Human Services (DHS) gave an update on the merging of the two departments to the Health and Human Services Interim Committee today in their first meeting since the end of session.

 

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Richard Saunders, executive director of DOH and Tracy Gruber, executive director of DHS discussed their plan to meet the December 1st deadline, which requires the departments to present a completed implementation plan to Gov. Spencer Cox.

The two departments have created a Steering Committee with seven voting members and 29 active members who are a part of DOH, DHS and the Department of Workforce Services (DWS). According to Saunders and Gruber, this committee’s purpose is to guide the transition plan with voices from all those who are affected. 

This committee has started conversations geared toward a clear vision of implementation, creating useful outcome measures, the logistics merging the two departments and the structure of what the new department would look like. 

The committee has created workgroups centered around the effect on specific demographics. These workgroups, along with the Steering Committee, meet on a regular basis and continue to welcome stakeholder engagement. 

Gruber said:

“One of the key elements of the legislation was stakeholder engagement, which includes all of you, our staff and a wide range of external community partners.”

The committee has already worked through some initial decisions related to business operations including the instant sharing of IT services and implementing an early childhood workgroup to ensure continued coverage of children. 

The Steering Committee has partnered with the Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute to aid in the development of the new department. 

Saunders said:

“We are working very collaboratively with a very wide group with great professionals including some outside guidance from the Kem Gardner Policy Institute.”

The Steering Committee has also partnered with Lighthouse Research who will conduct 16 focus groups with Medicaid members and those eligible for Medicaid. The focus groups will be conducted in both English and Spanish. 

During the meeting, Sen. Jacob Anderegg expressed concern over potential power struggles in the planning and implementation of the new department. 

Both Saunders and Gruber agreed with Anderegg, but also confirmed their healthy collaborative relationship so far in the process. Cox is currently choosing a new executive director for the new department. 

Rep. Jennifer Dailey-Provost expressed concern over the staffing turnover rates within the two departments since the merger was announced. Saunders and Gruber shared similar concerns and plan to be more decisive so that they can give their staff more clarity. 

Saunders said:

“The more that we can be decisive on where we are going, who will lead and how we will get there, the more people have clarity. With clarity, they can make decisions based on knowledge. That is what we are hoping for. Some decisions are being made out of concern or fear for their job, because they do not know what it is going to look like. That is why we are trying to work on clarity of vision.”

Saunders and Gruber are embracing the staffing changes as it creates greater opportunity to elevate. 

Saunders and Gruber will attend the monthly Health and Human Services Interim Committee meetings and will publish all updates on their website