The Alaska Division of Public Health (DPH) is the primary public health presence in many communities. DPH assures access to quality care and promotes the health of all people in the state with a focus on prevention, in partnership with tribal, local, and regional public health providers. Alaska’s public health system is highly centralized; regional and local public health programs and services are provided through 16 Public Health Centers operated by DPH, as well as through DPH-funded grantees (Anchorage Health Department, Maniilaq Association, North Slope Borough).
The COVID-19 pandemic accentuated long-standing gaps and created new challenges for the DPH workforce. During the pandemic, demands on public health staff grew significantly, and with the addition of temporary employees the number of DPH staff almost doubled. Vacancies are a significant concern, putting additional workload on staffed positions. Burnout and mental health challenges faced by public health staff nationwide very much apply to staff in Alaska.¿ Investments to hire, retain, and support staff are essential to meet evolving and complex public health needs in Alaska. The activities in this funding opportunity will enable DPH to hire, retain sustain, and train the public health workforce to increase the capacity of the DPH and statewide workforce, decrease DPH’s vacancy rate, and enhance professional development opportunities to the statewide public health, healthcare, and behavioral health workforce.
DPH focuses on public health interventions and quality assurance measures to improve the health of Alaskans. Despite this, DPH is one of the last State public health entities in the nation to be accredited through the national Public Health Accreditation Board (PHAB). DPH intends to submit accreditation to PHAB by January 2023; engagement in the accreditation process has and will continue to strengthen the division through quality improvement efforts, strengthened partnerships, streamlined processes, performance tracking, workforce development, and improved utilization of resources with the ultimate goal of improved health outcomes for Alaskans. Activities under this funding opportunity will allow the division to dedicate personnel, training and fees to support our pursuit of accreditation status to enable DPH to attain status and maintain accreditation and engage in ongoing quality improvement and performance management initiatives. The funding will also support our state laboratory’s CLIA certification.
Alaska’s public health data systems and structure are sorely outdated, disconnected, and antiquated. The COVID-19 pandemic brought the enormity of the problem to a head because the archaic, siloed, and inflexible systems negatively impacted Alaska’s ability to scale up and leverage data solutions to meet public needs during the response. Data modernization efforts have been underway in Alaska through gradual gains under other funding mechanisms for some time but have only just begun to formalize in organizational permanence in the last year. Moving in a purposeful and coordinated strategy towards a modern data infrastructure will increase system interoperability and linking of data, enable faster response as new or emerging threats present, increase our ability to leverage complex data for timely decision-making at the local and state level, and enable robust contribution to national surveillance datasets. DPH intends to leverage this funding opportunity to complete organizational transformation and drive data-related strategic planning and implementation to build upon work initiated in other funding opportunities and investments. DPH’s approach during the initial budget period is to establish sufficiently elevated and dedicated positions that will lead cohesive DMI-focused strategic implementation for modernizing individual program and system infrastructure and workforce.