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Tracy Gruber and Nate Checketts: Utah’s new Department of Health and Human Services will improve services to the public

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) The State Capitol in Salt Lake City on Tuesday, Nov. 9, 2021.

Streamlining government is more than just moving boxes on an organizational chart. Ultimately, it’s about improving services for Utahns and providing those services more efficiently. It takes intense process review, a willingness to change, and a lot of work.

Earlier this week our departments released the transition plan for the integration of the Utah Department of Health and the Department of Human Services into the new Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) on July 1, 2022. (The plan is visible on hhsplan.utah.gov).

The new DHHS will be the largest agency in state government, with 5,600 employees and a budget of $5.5 billion. For these nine months following the passage of House Bill 365, Social Services Realignment, in the 2020 session of the Utah Legislature, we’ve worked to identify ways to simplify and strengthen service delivery, maximize fiscal responsibility and create positive impact for the public we serve.

Gov. Spencer Cox’s One Utah Roadmap identifies streamlining and modernizing state government as a key priority. The merger of our departments, which provide critical services to hundreds of thousands of Utah residents every day, supports this priority by maximizing operational efficiencies to better deliver these services.

This undertaking will involve the transfer of more than 1,600 pages of code, 3,332 legal agreements and 180 federal grant programs to the new DHHS. While this merger is only one of several efforts to increase efficiency within our state government, it is one of the largest and provides one of the greatest opportunities for improving services for Utahns.

We have proposed a new budget structure to align intersecting priorities and services and ensure appropriate oversight and accountability. This new structure will also support the vision of the new department, which is centered around the individuals utilizing department resources through a seamless system of services and programs that is easy to navigate and access. One significant change will come through integration within the state’s Medicaid program where services for physical, behavioral, long-term services long-term service and supports programs such as disability services, elder care and public guardianship will all be co-located.

As we look beyond historical policies and barriers to ensure every Utah resident has an equal opportunity to be happy, safe, healthy and successful, we need to ensure we encourage innovations that will positively impact communities where disparities are greatest. We need to invest in prevention strategies that are proactive and focused on the whole person, integrating a more complete approach with physical health and behavioral health, and providing improved direct services and care.

Individual health is community health, and the combined vision from this consolidation will cultivate a renewed perspective around common risk factors and social determinants of health that impact health outcomes.

The challenges we have faced during COVID-19 have further highlighted the need for a social services system that supports and strengthens all Utahns regardless of where they live in our great state. We are humbled and inspired by our employees who have worked tirelessly throughout the pandemic to provide essential services and supports to Utahns most in need. Day after day they have risen to the challenge in our facilities, our offices, and our communities.

Similarly, we acknowledge the community stakeholders who participated in this process by attending dozens of meetings and providing hundreds of comments on behalf of their constituents. In particular, we appreciate those stakeholders who took time out of their busy schedules to meet with us, often in person, during our listening tour around the state this summer.

By July 1, 2022, DHHS will become legally and fully operational. The creation of DHHS is not the end of our work to streamline these services but instead the launching point for the important work ahead.

In the new DHHS, we will continue to eliminate silos between programs and to optimize the delivery of our services. In doing so, we will support both the Utahns receiving these services and our staff providing them. Utah is known for its innovation and willingness to work together to improve outcomes for all, and that is exactly what we will do in the new DHHS.

Tracy Gruber

Tracy Gruber is executive director of the Utah Department of Human Services.

Nate Checketts

Nate Checketts is executive director of the Utah Department of Health.