5 Things in Utah: Local Health Departments, Teen Behavioral Health, DHHS Implementation – State of Reform

This is the last bulletin before Utah has a new combined health agency; the Department of Health and Human Services is expected to be operational on July 1.

Learn more about the impending merger below, plus a push for local health departments to have more say in how their funding is allocated, a conversation with the CEO of Valley Behavioral Health, and news data on adolescent mental health in Utah.

Thanks, as always, for reading!

Eli Kirshbaum
State of reform

1. Local health service chiefs call for more financial independence

According to many local health officials, local health departments need to have more say in how local, state and federal money is used to fund their operations. At a recent meeting of the Interim Health and Human Services Committee, advocates urged legislators to reform the way local health services are funded so that each jurisdiction can manage its funding according to its specific needs.

Locally sourced funding is governed by County Commissioners and therefore subject to change depending on elections. Stakeholders say this funding structure also gets complicated under health departments that oversee more than one county. A Audit from utah Governance Committee— which administers the federal funding Utah receives — found it lacked transparency and recommended increased collaboration with UDOH and local health departments. “We don’t often feel like we have a say in what we do,” said Gina Wothen, first vice president of the Utah Counties Association.

2. Q&A: CEO of Valley Behavioral Health on the state of the workforce in Bosnia and Herzegovina

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the number one problem facing behavioral healthcare in Utah today is an insufficient workforce, according to Jared Sanford, President and CEO of Valley Behavioral Health. In this Q&ASanford explains how the labor shortage in BH is particularly difficult to manage amid an increased need for BH services following the pandemic.

Sanford says that has forced his facility to turn away many patients. “You never want to see people fall through the cracks, but I worry that people who need care won’t find it quickly and just give up,” he said. Although he believes there is no silver bullet to the problem, Sanford said potential solutions include higher salaries and better benefits for BH providers, dedicated time off for personal care, and a stronger BH provider recruitment pipeline.

3. What they’re watching: Stephen Foxley, Regence BlueCross BlueShield of Utah

The end of the public health emergency (PHE) poses a risk to those who have received Medicaid coverage throughout the pandemic but may not be eligible when new determinations begin again. Stephen FoxleyDirector of Government Affairs for Regence BlueCross BlueShield of Utah, sat down with us to discuss Regence’s efforts to create a seamless transition for Medicaid members who may no longer be eligible for the market or insurance of their employer.

Foxley said Regence is working to coordinate with key stakeholders in the health plan and coverage space to share meaningful data and get a head start on redeterminations to ensure a smooth transition out of Medicaid. “There is still a lot of work to do, but I think we will want to make sure that we coordinate with the Department of Health – soon to be the Department of Health and Human Services – other ACOs and supplier partners for us ensure that this [conversations around coordinating the redetermination effort] take place,” Foxley said.

4. Utah will have a new DHHS next week

Utah is approaching what is perhaps the state’s most anticipated health policy development: fusion from the Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Social Services, which should be finalized on July 1. Joe Dougherty, director of communications for the new Department of Health and Human Services, onidentifier the remaining work is mainly to strengthen intra-departmental operational efficiency and to ensure that the department is “legally and fully operational”.

Dougherty also said management is finalizing the new DHHS website and new hire intranet, while ensuring that all accounts and payroll are combined into the new consolidated department. The DHHS Transition Plan notes that there will be work left after the July 1 implementation date, including the development of a combined IT system, employee culture training, and performance metrics for the new department.

5. Teenage BH needs increased, substance use decreased in 2021

UDOH, DHS, and the State Board of Education recently partnered to release a report on the Behavioral Health Status of Utah Adolescents, which found notable increases in behavioral health needs among the population in 2021. The report, which uses data from SHARPis recent Prevention needs assessment surveyshowed that teenagers in the state had a 6% higher rate of “psychological distressand a rate of feeling sad or hopeless 5% higher than 2019 levels.

Along with these relative statistics, the report also revealed a decrease in substance use among Utah teens last year. The number of teens who report using vaping products more than anything else, 7.8%, represents a 5% decrease from 2019. Teens who use alcohol (3.1% in 2021) decreased by nearly 2% since 2019. Marijuana use, use of drugs that weren’t prescribed, and smoking also decreased in 2021.

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