UDOH and DHS release their transition plan and hold public Q&A

The Utah Department of Health (UDOH) and the Utah Department of Human Services (DHS) submitted their transition plan for the new Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) to the governor and the legislature last week.

The plan outlines the path forward to become an operational, combined department by July 1, 2022

The departments held a virtual Q&A on Dec. 9 to explain the plan and answer questions on funding usage and work with community-based organizations (CBOs).

 

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With the submission of this plan, the state is now in the “implementation” section of their transition plan. According to the plan, their key focuses include efforts to avoid the disruption of services and workflow, aligning of overlapping services—including integrating physical and behavioral health under Medicaid—and reviewing codified language to include new statutory legal structure. 

In terms of workflow, UDOH and DHS need to reassign or merge offices both physically and organizationally. Tracy Gruber, executive director of DHS and named executive director of DHHS, said most of the $1.5 million allocated to the transition plan from the legislature will go towards reconfiguring the two office spaces. 

Gruber also said those funds could help “build a more cohesive public-facing access point for the new department.” Setting clear access points to department entities will reduce patient confusion. She said in the Q&A:

“Maintaining those public-facing organizations is important for the public to know where to access services.”

In terms of IT, Gruber said work to merge the two departments’ data and technology will last beyond the July 1 deadline. DHHS plans to improve data-sharing and administration by consolidating many databases together into one. They also plan to create a new data warehouse with Amazon Web Services to “better identify clients served, clients served by multiple programs, and paths of services.”

The continued work on the organizational structure of DHHS aims to align “overlapping and complementary programs and services, including integrating physical and behavioral health with Medicaid, federal waiver programs in long-term services and supports, and suicide prevention and substance use education.” 

This is shown on the organizational structure under the “Integrated Healthcare” division, which includes Medicaid and CHIP. This division will encompass behavioral health treatment to facilitate integration of physical and behavioral health in Medicaid. 

Nate Checketts, executive director of UDOH, said DHHS plans to work more with CBOs and clinics to find more populations to use the Utah Medicaid Integrated Care (UMIC) plans. 

The plan also says the Medicaid program needs changes. HB 365—the state agency realignment bill—directed functions of Medicaid eligibility policy, eligibility quality control, and eligibility adjudications to the Department of Workforce Services (DWS). However, CMS denied the request for the move. The plan says modifications will need to be made to the law set by HB 365. These modifications are still unknown.  

DHHS and the legislature also need to review and change over 1,600 pages of state code to match the new legal structure of the department. According to the transition plan, 296 statutes need changing—172 in name only—to ensure the legal legitimacy of the department.

Here are some of the plan’s other tasks and their timelines. 

 

Image: DHHS Transition Plan

 

Image: DHHS Transition Plan

 

In the coming months, the Steering Committee will continue to provide updates to the legislature every two weeks. They will also continue to work with the governor and his offices on budget allocations for the new department.

The department will also continue the recruitment process for vacant leadership positions—namely the Medicaid director position. Gruber says updates on those positions are expected before the holiday season begins.