Dunleavy splits Alaska Department of Health and Social Services into two new agencies

Gov. Mike Dunleavy speaks at a press conference on Dec. 22, 2020 (Screenshot from Office of the Governor)

Alaska Gov. Mike Dunleavy announced Tuesday that he’s splitting the state’s health department in two.

Dunleavy and Alaska Department of Health and Social Services Commissioner Adam Crum said the department is too big, too unwieldy and needs a sharpened focus to better serve Alaskans. 

Crum said his department has more than 3,500 employees, making it the largest in the state.

“We are operating under the tyranny of time,” Crum said. “There is just not enough time and bandwidth in the day for the commissioner’s office and staff to do anything other than move from fire to fire and crisis to crisis.” 

Dunleavy’s plan is to create two new state agencies through an executive order. 

One would be the Department of Family and Community Services, it’s focus would be protecting vulnerable Alaskans. That means the Division of Juvenile Justice, the Office of Children’s Services, the Alaska Psychiatric Institute and the Alaska Pioneer Homes management would be nested under it. 

The second agency will be the Department of Health, it will include the Senior & Disabilities Services, Behavioral Health, Public Health, Public Assistance and Health Care Services divisions. 

Beyond those agency divisions, it’s not clear how the reorganization will work. The executive order hasn’t been drafted yet, and Dunleavy said he doesn’t know how much it would cost.  

“We don’t feel there really is going to be a cost,” he said. “As a matter of fact, we believe that over time the division — probably a short period of time — the dividing out of these two departments will result in better services delivered which will then result in, we think, more efficiencies and less call upon the Legislature, for example, for more resources to patch holes in the organization of the department because of less oversight, less management.”

But, he said he doesn’t think anyone working for the health department currently needs to worry about keeping their jobs. 

“We don’t see any need for reapplication. The individuals that are in the programs, in the divisions, will stay where they are, will do the jobs that they are,” he said.

It’s not clear how long the process will take. According to documentation on the governor’s website, if the executive order goes into effect, Gov. Dunleavy will need to appoint a new commissioner who will then need to be confirmed by the Legislature. 

The state is soliciting questions about the reorganization, you can send yours to dhssreorg@alaska.gov.

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