Comments sought on health programs

Statewide teleconference scheduled for Wednesday

Posted: Tuesday, November 04, 2003

Looking to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of state health and social programs, the Alaska House and Senate Health, Education and Social Services committees will seek public comment during a statewide teleconference.

The two committees plan to work with the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services to improve its operations and make it easier to use by Alaskans, according to a press release from Rep. Peggy Wilson's office. Wilson, R-Wrangell, is chair of the House HESS Committee.

The teleconference is set for Wednesday between 9 a.m. and noon at various state Legislative offices.

Commissioner Joel Gilbertson and newly appointed Deputy Commissioner Marcia Kennai will brief the committees and the public on the restructuring of the department that already has taken place.

They also are expected to present program improvements that will enable the department and its programs to meet their goals and better serve consumers, the press release said.

Exactly what would be on the agenda was a bit vague, but Rep. Paul Seaton, R-Homer, and a member of the House HESS Commit-tee, said it would be a time for Alaskans to express their priorities.

"What I'm looking for is for people to tell me where their priorities are as far as absolute essential services go, and for suggestions for coordinating and delivering those services better," he said.

Gilbertson will update people current on the progress of the reorganization that already has taken place within the Department of Health and Social Services, Seaton said.

"But with $250 million in targeted reductions (Gov. Frank Murkowski's stated budget reduction figure for the FY 2005 budget), I don't see how the department will escape a part of that since it is the largest department in the budget -- almost a third."

Health and Social Services covers such things as senior, mental health and alcohol services and administers agencies such as the divisions of Public Assistance and Public Health, among other programs.

"If there are going to be proposals for significant reductions, we need to be looking at our priorities at this time," Seaton said, adding he hopes not only to hear from the public, but from health care and social service providers, as well.

Sen. Fred Dyson, R-Eagle River, is the chair of the Senate HESS Committee. He said he spent an hour and a half with Gilbertson recently discussing, among other things, caseload, turnover and scheduling problems within the child protective services.

Dyson said, however, that the teleconference would be open to all comments having to do with the department, its restructuring and its future.

For more information on the teleconference, call Rep. Peggy Wilson at (800) 686-3824, Sen. Fred Dyson at (907) 694-6683 or the Legislative Information Office at 283-2030.

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