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North Dakota departments of health and human services merge into one agency

Lawmakers who supported the merger said it would create efficiency and allow employees to collaborate more easily on health-related topics.

The North Dakota State Capitol stands over the mall in Bismarck.
The North Dakota State Capitol in Bismarck.
Forum file photo
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BISMARCK — North Dakota's departments of health and human services became one on Thursday, Sept. 1, as legislation merging the two agencies took effect.

State lawmakers approved a massive 263-page proposal last year to combine the agencies into the Department of Health and Human Services, though the bill only survived the Senate by a single vote. Gov. Doug Burgum then signed the bill into law.

Human Services Director Chris Jones will lead the newly merged department, while State Health Officer Dr. Nizar Wehbi will "provide vision, leadership and consultation on state health priorities," according to a news release.

“North Dakota’s Department of Health and Department of Human Services have a long history of working together to serve North Dakotans,” Burgum said in the release. “As a unified health and human services team, HHS has the opportunity to transform the citizen experience and help North Dakota become the healthiest state in the nation.”

Lawmakers who supported the merger said it would create efficiency and allow employees to collaborate more easily on health-related topics.

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Bill sponsor Rep. Robin Weisz, R-Hurdsfield, said last year there's no requirement or expectation that the consolidated department cut jobs in the near future, but positions could be eliminated down the road. About 2,4000 public employees work for the departments.

Opponents of the merger said the departments serve two different roles and combining them wouldn't necessarily generate a more efficient agency.

Jones said the department's priority will be to "streamline and strengthen the path to quality and equitable programs and services by working as one team."

The Department of Human Services, which offers dozens of social programs, was already one of the state's biggest agencies, with a biennial budget of more than $4.7 billion. The Department of Health has a biennial budget of about $280 million.

North Dakota joins Michigan, Nebraska and a handful of other states that have merged health and human services departments.

Jeremy Turley is a Bismarck-based reporter for Forum News Service, which provides news coverage to publications owned by Forum Communications Company.
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