Alaska Health & Social Services Newsletter | November 2018




Welcome to our first edition of DHSS News, a message from our Commissioner Jay Butler, M.D.

Dear DHSS Colleagues and DHSS News Subscribers,

During my past four years here, I’ve been impressed by the commitment shown by DHSS employees to the people of Alaska, and by the breadth of services we provide. With over 3,200 employees working across a vast state that represents 16 percent of the landmass of the United States, we are often too busy to recognize our own accomplishments, or to communicate beyond our immediate colleagues about all the work we do every day to promote the health and well-being of Alaskans.
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Medicaid waiver (1115) will improve behavioral health services for Alaskans

Under the direction of the Walker Administration, the Department of Health and Social Services has been working diligently for the past two years on a waiver to federal Medicaid rules known as the 1115 Behavioral Health Waiver. This waiver would expand and make more available treatment services for Alaskans struggling with addiction, would help address Alaska’s opioid epidemic and improve health outcomes for Alaskans.
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Have you gotten your flu shot yet?

Seasonal flu activity hasn’t started to climb yet in Alaska, but cases are expected to pick up in the coming weeks. That means you should get your flu shot now if you haven’t already, especially since it takes about two weeks for the vaccine to become fully effective. It’s important to recognize that every year influenza sickens millions and kills tens of thousands of people across the United States. Over 80,000 Americans died of the flu last winter, the highest toll in years.
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Every Bite Matters!

What does the phrase “Every Bite Matters” mean to you? The Division of Public Assistance (DPA) is trying to make that tagline have Alaskans think about the way they consume their food. DPA’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) Ed launched a new campaign “Every Bite Matters,” to encourage individuals to consume more fruits and vegetables, whether it is fresh, frozen or canned. Click here for full article

Smokefree Workplace Law will create a healthier Alaska

The Smokefree Workplace Law took effect statewide on Oct. 1, prohibiting smoking and vaping in enclosed public places and workplaces, including buses and taxis, stores, bars and restaurants. The law improves the health of Alaskans by reducing exposure to secondhand smoke and lowering the risk for a number of serious health problems, including stroke, heart disease, sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), low birth weight, lung cancer and other respiratory diseases.
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DHSS signs Tribal consultation policy

DHSS Commissioner Jay Butler signed the department’s Tribal Consultation Policy into effect last month. This policy recognizes the inherent sovereignty of Alaska Tribes and sets the framework for regular communication between DHSS and Tribes to better serve all Alaskans. The policy outlines how DHSS and Tribes will set annual consultation meetings and facilitate on-going communications to develop shared goals that further the government-to-government relationship between the state and Tribes. Working with Alaska Tribes will ensure better delivery of services, develop more efficient government, and promote better health outcomes for all Alaskans. To learn more, visit the DHSS Tribal consultation website.

Play Every Day messages travel across Alaska and even to the Caribbean

Play Every Day didn’t actually travel to the Caribbean, but some of our health messages encouraging kids and parents to make healthy choices were recently shared in Jamaica! The Heart Foundation of Jamaica reached out to DHSS asking if it could borrow our creative concept for this video about the health risks of sugary drinks for children. We were happy to share.
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Alaska’s syphilis outbreak continues; CDC assists with investigation

So far in 2018, 75 cases of infectious syphilis have been reported to the Alaska Section of Epidemiology, including one case of probable congenital syphilis (transmission in utero to a newborn infant). This is the largest outbreak to have occurred in Alaska in at least four decades, and new cases continue to be reported.
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Emergency response professionals attend training conference in Anchorage

The Hale Borealis Forum, held October 23-25 in Anchorage, brought together nearly 500 professionals from public health, prehospital care, trauma centers, hospitals, law enforcement and local, state and tribal emergency management to focus on health and medical emergency preparedness, response and recovery. The theme, “Strengthening Whole Community Partnerships to Improve Healthcare Resiliency,” reflects a multi-agency, collaborative approach to health preparedness.
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Points of dispensing clinics practice emergency preparedness

If a public health emergency like a pandemic influenza were to occur, DHSS would need to quickly mobilize to dispense medication to a large number people. To ensure everyone is prepared for these kinds of emergencies, our Public Health Nurses collaborate annually with emergency response partners in communities across Alaska to hold Points of Dispensing Clinics, which are essentially drills for dispensing medication to large groups. Click here for full article

What health issues are most important to you?

What health priorities are most important to you and your community? Healthy Alaskans, a partnership between DHSS and the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium, is asking Alaskans about their health concerns in a survey that will help inform Alaska’s next health improvement plan, Healthy Alaskans 2030. The survey is now open and will be active through Feb. 28.
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Senior and Disabilities Services adds two new programs

As of October 1, Senior and Disabilities Services added two new programs to support Alaskans who experience disabilities. One of the new programs is Community First Choice (CFC). CFC offers personal care and other services to participants who meet an institutional level of care. Roughly 1,000 participants who currently receive both waiver services and personal care services through regular Medicaid have already transitioned to the program.
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DHSS at AFN Convention

The Alaska Federation of Natives (AFN) Convention is always a great opportunity for state agencies to connect with Alaskans. DHSS hosted a booth where staff handed out health-related information, plus a new coloring book for children that explains the work that DHSS does and drug disposal bags to safely dispose of unused prescription opioids or other medication.
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On the Opioid Front

DHSS works with many state and federal agencies, programs and community partners to combat Alaska’s ongoing opioid epidemic. There are many ongoing activities, but here are some recent highlights: Click here for full article

New system will improve access for Alaskans to treatment services

The Division of Behavioral Health is working with Open Beds, a web-based platform that improves access to treatment services through digital screening of a patient’s needs, scanning and scheduling of available treatment services, secured messaging and data analytics. Click here for full article

OCS and the Sitka Tribe of Alaska Partnership Receives High Honors

Congratulations to the Sitka Indian Child Welfare Association Partnership on being selected as one of the three High Honors recipients from the six finalists at the Harvard Honoring Nations Awards 2018. Click here for full article




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DHSS divisions produce many reports, updates and bulletins to keep Alaskans informed with the most current health and vital statistics data. Here are some recent reports:

Alaska Vital Statistics 2017 Annual Report

Health Impacts of Opioid Misuse in Alaska

2016-2018 Opioid Overdose Mortality

2017 Drug Overdose Mortality Update

1918 Pandemic Influenza

Alaska Obesity Facts: Weight Status in Alaska 

Out-of-Hospital Cardiac Arrest Survival and the CARES Registry: The Alaska Experience, 2012–2016

Update on Screening and Treatment for Latent Tuberculosis Infection: Treating TB Infection to Prevent TB Disease

Update on Alaska’s Ongoing Syphilis Outbreak

Pregnancy-Related Mortality in Alaska, 2012–2016

Foodborne Illness and Complaint Reports Summary — Alaska, 2015–2017

Opioid Training for Prescribers

Pain Management, Opioid Use, and Addiction in Alaska
This course provides one AAFP (American Academy of Family Physicians) credit (equivalent to one AMA Category 1 Credit) and is presented by Alaska medical experts in public health, pain management and addiction: Jay Butler, M.D., Josh Stream, M.D., and Joshua Sonkiss, M.D.


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