Tracy Gruber is the executive director of the newly merged Utah Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS). The the DHHS merger has become official July 1 as part of efforts to streamline operations between the Department of Health and the Department of Human Services.
In this Q&A, Gruber discusses the benefits of the merger and next steps for the new department.
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State of the reform: What were your biggest successes and failures throughout the merger process?
Tracy Gruber: “I think our biggest success has been meeting that July 1st date with our departments now operating as one with our staff assigned to the right organizational units and the right organizational structure. [We have] a new department that is responsive to community feedback and feedback in various community stakeholders.
I wouldn’t say there are failures, but I think there is still work to be done. We knew July 1 would be the date when we would have the legal structure in place, our staff in the right organizational units and [be able to] support the new department’s vision that all Utahans have fair and equal opportunities to be healthy and safe. We have encountered this successfully.
There are still things to do. We have computer systems that still need to be merged and combined. We still have a few structural things like figuring out which office buildings across the state we want to keep open. We still have websites that need to have the new logo, new templates and color schemes. But, the real purpose of the merger isn’t just to have the organizational structure in place, it’s to provide better service to Utah and improve results for Utah. So there is still a lot to do in this regard. »
OR: What are some of the biggest changes that have been made during this merger that will best streamline operations and impact the people of Utah every day?
GE: “The general public shouldn’t have to worry about organizational structure to meet their needs. Previously, there were programs in both departments and these program teams are now co-located. This will allow us to take advantage of resources that were essentially divided between departments. This will include leveraging human and financial resources and clearly defining the objectives of programs likely to be duplicated. This will provide better service to Utahns.
We also review all of our contracts—where there may have been similar contracts with a particular CE—from both departments. We plan to reconcile them so that there is only one. It’s going to provide better service because we’re going to combine our resources to get a better product and better results for the people of the state.
One area that remains to be built is our new customer experience division, where we will help navigate the complexities of government. We’ll help Utahns access the programs and resources they need, and we’ll provide a “no wrong door” [system] for contacting the department for these resources. This room has yet to be built.
We will spend the next year looking at how Utahns interact with our department through surveys and various technology tools that examine how people enter the department and what resources they use.
OR: With the head of the merger, how can the department better use healthcare innovation to improve care for Utahans?
GE: “I think one of the things we did in the new organization was create an innovation office. We talk about public health and social services, about populations of individuals who interact with our ministry in multiple ways, about communities who need resources and support to solve public health problems. We are ready to look at complex health issues, including the cost of health care, through our Medicaid program, address those challenges, and bring our teams together to explore those challenges.
We have the Office of Innovation to make sure we are accountable for good health outcomes and this vision that people are healthy and safe. We will also work closely with the Governor’s Chief Innovation Officer who is building the One Utah Health Collaborative. We have our own innovation priorities that are going to be complementary to those of the Governor, including integrated health care, the integration of physical and behavioral health, a focus on value-based health care through of the Medicare program and the emphasis on prevention and health promotion.
This interview has been edited for clarity and length.