5 Things Utah: Local health departments, Adolescent behavioral health, DHHS

This is the final newsletter before Utah has a new, combined health agency; the Department of Health and Human Services is set to operationalize on July 1st.

Read more about the impending merge below, as well as a push for local health department’s to have more say in how their funding is allocated, a conversation with the CEO of Valley Behavioral Health, and new data about adolescent mental health in Utah.

Thanks, as always, for reading!

Eli Kirshbaum
State of Reform 


1. Local health department leaders call for more financial independence

Local health departments need more say in how local, state, and federal money is used to fund their operations, according to numerous local health leaders. At a recent Health and Human Services Interim Committee meeting, advocates urged legislators to reform the way in which local health departments are funded so each jurisdiction can manage their funding based on their specific needs.

Locally-derived funding is governed by county commissioners and thereby subject to change based on elections. Stakeholders say this funding structure also gets complicated under health departments that oversee more than one county. An audit of Utah’s Governance Committee—which manages the federal funding Utah receives—found it to lack transparency and recommended increased collaboration with UDOH and local health departments. “We don’t feel often that we have a lot of say in what we do,” said Gina Wothen, First Vice President of the Utah Association of Counties.


2. Q&A: Valley Behavioral Health CEO on the state of the BH workforce

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the number one issue facing behavioral health care in Utah today is an insufficient workforce, according to Jared Sanford, President and CEO of Valley Behavioral Health. In this Q&A, Sanford discusses how the BH workforce shortage is particularly challenging to manage in the midst of an increased need for BH services following the pandemic.

Sanford says this has forced his facility to turn away a lot of patients. “You never want to see people fall through the cracks, but I worry that people who need care might not find it quickly and just give up,” he said. Although he believes there’s no “silver bullet” for solving the issue, Sanford says potential solutions include higher wages and better benefits for BH providers, dedicated time off for self 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) presents risk to those who received Medicaid coverage throughout the pandemic, but might not be eligible when redeterminations begin again. Stephen Foxley, Government Affairs Director of 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 marketplace or insurance from 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…

Read More: 5 Things Utah: Local health departments, Adolescent behavioral health, DHHS

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