5 Things Alaska: Conference keynotes, panel coverage


Eli Kirshbaum


Thank you to everyone who came to last week’s 2022 Alaska State of Reform Health Policy Conference! It was an honor for our team to be back in Anchorage in-person and we are thrilled to have had such a dynamic, well-attended event.

Our Digital Media Specialist, Alex Nelson, made a “What You Missed” video to recap the event—check it out here!

As always, thank you for your support!

Eli Kirshbaum
State of Reform


1. Keynote videos: DOH CMO Dr. Anne Zink and Providence CEO Ella Goss

We opened last month’s conference with remarks from Dr. Anne Zink, who assumed the role of Chief Medical Officer at the Alaska Department of Health right before the arrival of COVID-19. Watch the full video to hear Zink discuss her public health ideology, her experience in health policy leadership during the pandemic, and much more.

We closed out the day with a keynote from Providence Alaska CEO Ella Goss, who emphasized the need for the state to have a clinically integrated care network. “We do not have a whole system of care in Alaska,” Goss said. “We have very good siloed, independent, oftentimes disjointed pockets of care. Going forward, that’s not going to work for us.” Watch Goss’s full remarks here.


2. Alaska health agency leaders discuss priorities following ADHSS split

During our Lunch Keynote, the 2 leaders of Alaska’s newly divided Department of Health and Department of Family and Community Services discussed why they felt the former ADHSS needed to be split and what their symbiotic departments are focused on heading into the future. “There’s a lot of good communication between the two departments and the divisions,” ADFCS Commissioner Kim Kovol said. “We don’t function without each other.”

Key goals of the departments include improving the quality of long-term care and boosting efforts to support Alaskans with chronic conditions. ADH Commissioner Adam Crum explained the state is re-determining Medicaid eligibility on a monthly basis to prepare for the end of the PHE. Alaskans who became eligible in July of 2022 won’t be required to go through redeterminations until July 2023. “This means we’re not going to have 265,000 people fall off of Medicaid all at once,” he said. “We do not have the staff, the technology, or the wherewithal to deal with that. That would crush the system.”

3. A look at Alaska’s crisis response strategies

During our panel on 988 and crisis response, Eric Boyer from the Alaska Mental Health Trust Authority provided an overview of the state’s Crisis Now program, which focuses on short-term stabilization options and mobile crisis teams in order to lower reliance on law enforcement and deter inappropriate use of emergency departments when an individual is undergoing a crisis.

Boyer noted that Alaska has a history of prolonged emergency room stays for individuals undergoing an acute episode. Panelist Michelle Baker of the Southcentral Foundation discussed how the tribal health system is working on installing an innovative crisis stabilization center at Providence Alaska Medical Center. Leah Van Kirk from the Division of Behavioral Health also discussed the state’s 988 implementation during the discussion.


4. The work to continue bridging Alaska’s health equity gap

During our “Moving from awareness to action on health equity” panel, Alaska Black Caucus President and CEO Celeste Hodge Growden discussed economic disparities that were exacerbated during the COVID-19 pandemic. She said workers deemed to be essential—who are very often people of color,  and include health care workers and child care providers—need higher wages to help address inequity.

Veronica Sandoval said Genentech is utilizing the recently formed Advancing Inclusive Research External Council to improve health equity. “They can help us think through barriers and how we can truly, as an industry, make sure the future of clinical trials is embedding diversity, inclusion, and equity, because that’s where it’s going to start as far as scientific innovations.”

5. State Democrats and Republicans outline health policy priorities

Discussion in the “Policy Leadership: Republicans” panel focused on the need to lower health care costs. “Something is fundamentally wrong,” Senate Majority Leader Shelley Hughes said of the issue. “What I have seen is the problem continue. It hasn’t gotten any better. It is not sustainable for families.” As a potential solution, she advocated for the passage of proposed legislation that would ensure cost-savings are spread among customers, employers, and insurers when a service is purchased at below-average cost.

During the Democratic policy leadership panel, Senate Minority Leader Tom Begich and Rep. Zach Fields said addressing the relationship between children’s health and the social determinants of health is a key priority. “We will not bring [the costs associated with SDOH] down over time unless kids have a safe environment to learn and grow up in. We need to address child care,” Fields said. Begich praised the recent passage of the Alaska Reads Act as a step in the right direction.