DHSS News | June 2019



Commissioner’s message: The power of prevention

This newsletter edition contains several articles about long-term, community-based prevention work that spans across DHSS divisions and programs. We don’t intentionally focus our newsletters around certain themes but this one came together naturally because it’s work we regularly engage in and are excited about here at DHSS. Full article

Section 1115 Medicaid Waiver: New substance use disorder treatment services

In 2018 the Division of Behavioral Health began working on redesigning the state’s behavioral health system with a vision of providing Alaskans with a comprehensive suite of cost-effective, high quality behavioral health services to ensure access to the right services, at the right time, in the right setting. Full article

Medicaid providers notified of modified payment schedule

The Alaska Department of Health and Social Services (DHSS) made adjustments to its weekly Medicaid provider payment schedule due to a projected budget deficit for this fiscal year, which ends June 30, 2019.  Included is the letter that Renee Gayhart, director of the Division of Health Care Services, sent to providers in May. Full article

DHSS tests Alaska’s public health response systems through a mock epidemic exercise

Alaska’s emergency response systems were tested in a very real way by the magnitude 7.1 earthquake that shook Southcentral Alaska this past Nov. 30, followed by thousands of aftershocks. Just a few months later, in April, DHSS executed a public health exercise that had been planned long before the earthquake hit. There’s nothing quite like a real emergency, followed by a planned exercise, to test systems and identify areas that need strengthening. Full article

Beacon Hill volunteers remodel OCS contact rooms

Family contact rooms for the Office of Children’s Services (OCS) provide an essential area for children in OCS’s care to continue spending time with their parents and family with the hopes of reunification. Full article

Home Accessibility and Enabling Technology Pilot Project

The Senior and Disabilities Services Division has been working with the Statewide Independent Living Council of Alaska (SILC) on a new pilot project that explores how home accessibility modifications and the use of enabling technologies can support people living independently in their homes. The Home Accessibility and Enabling Technology Pilot Project is managed by SILC and funded through the Alaska Mental Health Trust and the Mat-Su Health Foundation. Full article

Floating health fair provides health services to Prince William Sound communities

What could be more Alaskan than a floating health and safety fair? For the past 21 years, a floating fair has brought basic health screenings plus much more to the Prince William Sound communities of Tatitlek and Chenega Bay. This year's fair, from April 28 to May 3, included health and wellness events for the community, plus hearing, vision and development checkups for children and information for all on nutrition, healthy relationships, tobacco prevention, healthy lifestyles and more. Full article

Multi-pronged approach used to address Alaska’s opioid epidemic

While news about the opioid epidemic tends to focus on overdoses, deaths, enforcement efforts and life-saving tools such as Narcan, other prevention work happening to confront this public health crisis in Alaska is also underway. Full article

Public Health nurses collaborate across divisions and programs on upstream prevention

The work done by Alaska’s Public Health nurses often reaches beyond immunizations and routine health care to include upstream prevention efforts aimed at protecting and strengthening whole communities. Full article

Marijuana taxes help fund marijuana misuse prevention programs

After retail marijuana was legalized in 2014, the Alaska Legislature recognized the importance of preventing youth access to marijuana, educating adults about the health effects of marijuana and informing the public about marijuana laws. As a result, Senate Bill 104 was passed last year which created a Marijuana Education and Treatment Fund. This fund serves as a special account in the general fund where 25% of the excise tax collected on marijuana products is deposited. Full article

Division of Public Health pursues accreditation

The Division of Public Health is actively pursuing accreditation status with the national Public Health Accreditation Board (PHAB). PHAB is a nonprofit organization dedicated to advancing the continuous quality improvement of Tribal, state, local and territorial public health departments. The process of obtaining initial accreditation status will give the Division of Public Health the opportunity to assess its performance against a set of nationally recognized standards and measures based on the 10 Essential Public Health Services.  The assessment will encourage the division to build on its strengths and work to address the identified gaps to manage and maintain an effective state health department that works to protect and promote the health of Alaskans. To learn more about PHAB accreditation, visit phaboard.org or contact the Division of Public Health accreditation coordinator, Lisa McGuire, at lisa.mcguire@alaska.gov.

NIT holds training academy at McLaughlin

In April, Northern Industrial Training (NIT) held a training academy for the youth at McLaughlin Youth Center (MYC). Our commissioner, Adam Crum, was formerly executive vice president of NIT but this partnership predates that connection. This is the eleventh academy since the partnership between MYC and NIT began. NIT training for certifications for this academy were in the following areas: North Slope Training Cooperative (NSTC) Unescorted, Fall Protection, NSTC Confined Space, Energy Isolation and Forklift Training. Full article

Emergency Medical Services Week honors Alaska’s EMS professionals

Gov. Michael J. Dunleavy proclaimed May 19-25, 2019, “Emergency Medical Services Week” to honor Alaska’s Emergency Medical Services (EMS) providers. The Emergency Medical Services Office within the Division of Public Health thanked and paid tribute to Alaska’s EMS community on DHSS social media and through other venues. EMS providers were recognized for the time they have to spend away from their own families and loved ones and for placing the needs of others above their own to help Alaska’s communities and patients in times of crisis. The commitment shown by EMS providers to patients, their families and the communities they serve is a true testament to neighbor helping neighbor. Thank you to all of you who do this work and a job well done! Thank you, too, to Gov. Dunleavy for recognizing the many contributions and sacrifices made by EMS providers on behalf of all Alaskans. Full article

Thank you Alaska’s nurses

DHSS recognized the work of Alaska’s nurses during National Nurses Week, May 6-12. DHSS employs nurses across divisions, sections and programs, and our public health nurses work in 16 communities out of public health centers and in over 280 communities through itinerant services. This year, DHSS also highlighted the work of school nurses on May 8, National School Nurse Day. State School Nurse Consultant Barb Pennington helped the DHSS Public Information Team connect with several school nurses in the Anchorage area for a DHSS social media post and media stories about the important work school nurses do. Full article



The first regular session of the 31st Alaska Legislature concluded on May 15 and a special session is now underway. Following is a roundup of DHSS-related legislation passed this session and on the way to the governor’s desk for his signature. This information was shared in a commissioner’s email to staff in late May. Full article

The Section of Women’s, Children’s and Family Health in the Division of Public Health is pleased to present the Alaska Maternal and Child Health Data Book 2018: PRAMS Edition, sharing detailed analyses from the Alaska Pregnancy Risk Assessment Monitoring System (PRAMS). Full article

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 2019 Injury Facts

The Burden of Heart Disease and Stroke in Alaska

Diabetes Prevention and Control in Alaska

2017 Alaska Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System Survey Highlights

Gonorrhea Update ― Alaska, 2018

Syphilis Knowledge, Attitudes, and Practices Among Clinicians and Men Who Have Sex with Men

Syphilis Update — Alaska, 2018

Angiostrongyliasis (Rat Lungworm Disease) in an Alaskan who Traveled to Hawaii

Chlamydia Infection Update ― Alaska, 2018

Emergency Preparedness among Women with Infants — Alaska, 2012–2013

HIV Update ― Alaska, 2018

Botulism Outbreak — Nome, January 2019

2018 Southcentral Alaska Earthquake Survey Findings


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