Merging two major state agencies?

Health and Human Services
Health and Human Services(KFYR)
Published: Mar. 30, 2021 at 1:39 PM CDT
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BISMARCK, N.D. (KFYR) - Needless to say, North Dakotans have become quite familiar with the Departments of Health and Human Services of the course of the pandemic.

But shortly after the height in cases, the two could be bracing for a major transition and become one.

It’s been called one of the simplest 263-page bills this session: merging two of the most interactive agencies in the state government.

For many, it’s a project more than 20 years in the making.

But with the size and continuing growth of both, bringing the two together won’t be easy.

During COVID, these two agencies have been on the front lines for collecting, sharing, and distributing any and all information regarding the virus.

But due to the nature of their separate spheres, lawmakers have experienced hurdles when trying to get information from one about the other.

“There hasn’t been, for me, enough collaboration… They’re not always on the same page, and so you have conflicts and issues there and also duplication of services,” Rep. Robin Weisz, R-Hurdsfield, said.

The bill says the merger would happen in July of this year, but the author of the bill admitted that’s an error that will be fixed.

But it’s not the timeline that has lawmakers concerned.

It’s proposing the merge after the height of a pandemic.

“The people I’ve seen in management positions and leadership positions are exhausted and it’s the timing that worries me,” Sen. Kathy Hogan, D-Fargo, said.

According to the bill, department heads for each side would lead the merger.

But the bill doesn’t include any timelines for things like bringing salaries under a new budget and reorganizing the structure of both departments into one.

One lawmaker said the bill was intentionally written to be broad, that way those who understand the departments the best would have the flexibility they need.

The Department of Health was unable to comment.

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