The Alaska Department of Health and Social Services, along with the Alaska Mental Health Trust Authority, have put together a framework hoping for more comprehensive mental health care throughout the state by 2024.

“I’m pleased that the 2020-24 plan has a strong focus on prevention and early intervention. Including these types of activities as part of our goals ensures that we promote resiliency in Alaskans, which can reduce their risks of developing serious health problems over the course of their lifetime,” said DHSS Commissioner Adam Crum. “It also allows us to identify and provide help earlier to children who experience trauma, which is shown to decrease threats to their health throughout their lifespan.”

DHSS says the Strengthening the System plan focuses on nine goals, which the department says will guide them in making decisions around program planning and funding. The goals also highlight strategies to improve behavioral health services.

Early childhood

DHSS says adults with traumatic childhood experiences have a higher risk of attempting suicide and becoming involved in domestic violence and alcohol abuse. The plan recommends promoting universal screenings, culturally relevant treatment and community engagement. The department says they will create resources and training for caregivers to help achieve this goal.

Health care

The department wants to improve access to physical and mental health care by expanding the availability of health care services, particularly Medicare and Medicaid, throughout the state.

Economic and social well-being

The plan hopes to promote strong and economical well-being for benefit recipients. This includes a safe home and ways to contribute to their communities through involvement and employment. DHSS and the Alaska Mental Health Trust Authority say this goal will be achieved through educating people about financial literacy, career planning and training.

Substance use disorder prevention

To prevent substance abuse, DHSS recommends developing health education campaigns and long-term prevention programs to educate young people. Part of the plan also includes educating providers and teachers on addiction and intervention.

Suicide prevention

According to DHSS, Alaska's suicide rate is nearly double the national average. The department hopes to make suicide prevention programs, such as Careline Alaska, more accessible. The department also hopes to work with school districts and other community programs to identify children in need of support.

Protecting vulnerable Alaskans

The sixth goal of the plan centers on Alaskans who cannot seek help without assistance. This portion includes strategies to help children and families dealing with intergenerational trauma to find support.

Services in the least restrictive environment

DHSS says they will continue to ensure care is available in people's home communities. The Alaska Mental Health Trust Authority also hopes to reduce the number of beneficiaries entering the criminal and juvenile justice systems through increasing awareness of treatment services outside of correctional facilities.

Services in institutional settings

The plan says DHSS will work on establishing standards for inpatient services at institutions such as the Alaska Psychiatric Institute, correctional facilities, out-of-state care facilities and nursing homes. DHSS also says individuals needing care will also be educated on the variety of options available to them apart from institutions. 

Workforce, data and funding

The final goal highlighted in the plan focuses on maintaining its objectives through workforce development, program support and funding. The department says they will work on preparing Alaska youth for health careers and increasing people's knowledge of behavioral health care.

Apart from the Alaska Mental Health Trust Authority, DHSS says the plan was developed with help from an advisory board and the public. For resources and more information about Strengthening the System, visit the DHSS website.

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