Merger of state agencies spurs creation of office to help navigate bureaucracy

SALT LAKE CITY – A mega-merger of two of Utah’s largest state agencies is prompting government leaders to rethink the way they deliver services to thousands of people every day.

Beginning in July 2022, the Utah Department of Health and the Department of Human Services will merge into a single agency. When completed, it will be the largest government agency with more than 5,600 employees and $ 5.5 billion in spending.

A recently released transition plan said there would be no layoffs, although some employees would have to be reassigned. From Medicaid and COVID-19 to behavioral health and aging services, there’s no part of the state that Utah’s combined Department of Health and Human Services won’t touch.

“It’s every community in the state. It has a statewide footprint,” said Tracy Gruber, the current executive director of the Utah Department of Social Services who will lead the combined agency.

Governor Spencer Cox proposed to merge the two agencies when he took office, believing that a single agency could effectively deliver services. The legislature passed a bill earlier this year to make it happen.

“I think the natural idea is that it creates more bureaucracy,” Gruber said in an interview with FOX 13. “But when you focus the system on people accessing services, put programs that are the same in two. different departments in one department with focus on results, in one place to get those resources, this reduces administrative burden and creates efficiencies. ”

Some advocacy groups have expressed concern about a company of this magnitude – and the timing of it.

“We are still in the midst of a pandemic and so I think when I see how we move forward and think about what lies ahead for the public health emergency, hopefully, or the continuation of our health response public, I continue to have concerns, ”said Jessie Mandle, senior policy analyst with Voices for Utah Children. “We ask a lot of our public health staff. “

Gruber said the merger prompted them to rethink the way services are delivered, based on feedback from a number of community groups and members of the public across Utah.

“We are building a system that is actually focused on how people actually live their lives. So we are integrating behavioral and physical health into both the administrative office of health care, integrated health care as well as prevention. and promoting public health, ”she said. .

Gruber said combining physical and behavioral health would help the “whole person” instead of dividing services into different government agencies.

Due to the sometimes complex nature of social services and public health, Utah’s new Department of Health and Human Services will also create a new office to help people navigate the bureaucracy. The “Office of Customer Experience” will provide a “one-stop-shop” for people to be directed to the appropriate documents or division for services.

“The vision is that a person can walk into the department not knowing exactly what program, a specific program they need, the name of the program, what division they are in,” Gruber told FOX 13. “They just come into that customer experience division and they’ll be able to do the intake, the assessment. We’ll have staff who will make sure they get the right resources to navigate the complexity of state government. “

Gruber said the “no wrong door” approach ensures the Utahns have access to the services they need.

Mandle said she liked the concept of the Customer Experience Office, if it can help the people of Utah with complicated systems like Medicaid enrollment (which is actually run by another agency, the Utah Department of Workforce Services).

“The way people come through the door, that initial entry, that registration point is so important and can really shape the experience people have in a lot of these programs,” she said.

There are over 1,600 pages of legal code that have been revised and some areas still need to be addressed in the next merger legislative session. You can read the state’s transition plan here.

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