Commissioner’s Message: Changes at API and new DHSS leadership team members

Dear DHSS colleagues and news subscribers,

As most of you are likely already aware, I recently took action to make much-needed improvements at the Alaska Psychiatric Institute (API). In light of serious patient and staff safety concerns, as well as ongoing investigations by state and federal regulatory agencies, DHSS has contracted with Wellpath Recovery Solutions to provide administrative leadership at API.

Wellpath’s goals are to bring the hospital back into regulatory compliance, address problems that put patients and staff in jeopardy, and prepare the hospital to return to full capacity by June 30, 2019. If successful with those goals, Wellpath will assume full responsibility of API on July 1, 2019.
For anyone wanting more information about this decision and its implementation, DHSS has created a web page on API’s website where information and documents are being posted to keep the public informed. I encourage you to visit the page if you have questions. You may also submit comments and questions about this change to

We are thankful for the many health care partners across the state who have expressed public support of this action. Special thanks to Sen. David Wilson; Alaska Mental Trust Authority; Jerry Jenkins, Alaska Behavioral Health Association; Jeff Jessee, College of Health, UAA; Julie Taylor, Alaska Regional Hospital; Dr. Vanessa Venezia, Fairbanks Memorial Hospital; Elke Villegas, Chris Kyle Patriots Hospital, North Star Behavioral Health; Dr. Andrew Mayo, North Star Hospital; and Roald Helgesen, Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium.

As I head into my fourth month as your commissioner, I also want to take a moment to recognize our talented leadership team. I was fortunate to step into a department that already had many experienced and skilled professionals. I’ve also had the opportunity to fill out the team with new and returning leaders who will continue to strengthen our commitment to our mission. Please take a moment to read about each of them below and view our organizational chart:

  • I’m happy to welcome Dr. Lily Lou as the new chief medical officer. In addition to her many years of experience in clinical medicine, she also brings a strong interest in promoting healthy lifestyles, addressing mental health challenges, combating Alaska’s opioid epidemic, and many other areas of need facing Alaskans.
  • Albert Wall returned to DHSS in December to serve as deputy commissioner for Family, Community & Integrated Services. Donna Steward transitioned from executive officer for the Office of Rate Review to take over as deputy commissioner of Medicaid and Health Care Policy.
  • The new assistant commissioner of Finance and Management Services, Sana Efird, brings her strategic planning and budget experience back to DHSS after serving with the Department of Education and Early Development.
  • In the Commissioner’s Office, Laura Russell has joined the team as a policy advisor and Heather Carpenter will focus on health care policy. Tony Newman will continue in his role as legislative liaison.
  • Merry Carlson, has accepted the position of director for the Division of Public Health on a permanent basis which will be well-served by her extensive skills and abilities.
  • Natalie Norberg comes to the Office of Children’s Services director position with a wealth of experience in child welfare.
  • The new director of the Division of Public Assistance, Shawnda O’Brien, brings much experience and knowledge to the position from working over half her career at DHSS.

We are fortunate to have such highly qualified and caring individuals provide leadership at DHSS. If you come across these individuals in our community or through your work, please extend a welcome to them.

Adam Crum

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