Q&A: Tracy Gruber on the merger, transition, and future of new DHHS

Tracy Gruber is the Executive Director of the newly merged Utah Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS). The merger of DHHS became official July 1st in efforts to streamline operations between the Department of Health and Department of Human Services. 

In this Q&A, Gruber discusses the benefits of the merger and the next steps for the new department. 

 

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State of Reform: What were some of your biggest successes and failures throughout the merger process?

Tracy Gruber: “I think our biggest success was meeting that July 1st date with our departments now functioning as one with our staff assigned to the right organizational units and organizational structure. [We have] a new department that is responsive to the input and feedback from the community in various community stakeholders.

I wouldn’t say that there are any failures, but I think that there’s still work to be done. We knew that July 1st was going to be the date by which we would have the legal structure in place, have our staff in the right organizational units, and [be able to] support the vision of the new department so that all Utahns have fair and equitable opportunities to be healthy and safe. We met that successfully. 

There are still remaining things to be done. We have IT systems that still need to be merged and combined. We still have some structural pieces like determining which office buildings throughout 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 goal of the merger is not just to have the organizational structure in place, it’s to provide a better service to Utah and improve outcomes for Utah. So, there’s still a lot more to be done in that regard.”

SOR: What are some of the most important changes that were made during this merger that will best streamline operations and impact everyday Utahns?

TG: “The general public should not have to worry about the organizational structure in terms of getting their needs met. There were programs in both departments previously and those teams in those programs are now housed together. That’s going to allow us to leverage resources that were basically split across departments. This will include leveraging human resources and financial resources, and clearly defining objectives for those programs that might be duplicated. That is going to provide a better service for Utahns. 

We are also going through all of our contracts—where there may have been similar contracts to a particular community entity—coming from both departments. We are planning to reconcile those so that there would only be one. That’s going to provide a better service because we’ll be combining our resources to get a better product and better outcomes for the people of the state. 

One area that still remains to be built is our new division of customer experience, which is where we’re going to be helping navigate the complexities of government. We’re going to be helping Utahns get to the programs and resources that they need, and we’re going to be providing a ‘no wrong door’ [system] for contacting the department to get those resources. That piece still needs to be built.

We’re going to be spending the next year looking at how Utahns are interacting with our department through surveys and various technology tools that look at how people are coming into the department and what resources are they utilizing.”

SOR: With the merger official, how can the department better use innovation in the health care space to improve care for Utahns? 

TG: “I think one thing that we did do in the new organization is create an Office of Innovation. We’re talking about public health and human services, populations of individuals who are interacting with our department in a multitude of ways, communities that require resources, and support to address public health issues. We are prepared to look at complex issues involving health including the cost of health through our Medicaid program, to tackle those challenges, and bring our teams together to explore those challenges. 

We have the Office of Innovation to make sure that we are accountable for good health outcomes and to that vision that people are healthy and safe. We’ll also be partnering very closely with the governor’s innovation officer who is building the One Utah Health Collaborative. We have our own innovation priorities that are going to be complementary to the governor, including integrated health care, integrating physical and behavioral health, focusing on value based health care through the Medicare program, and really focusing on health prevention and promotion.”

This interview was edited for clarity and length.

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