Three resign from Department of Health and Social Services after psychiatric institute report

Health Commissioner Valerie Davidson during a discussion on Medicaid reform in Senate Finance Feb. 24, 2016. (Photo by Skip Gray/360 North)

Health Commissioner Valerie Davidson during a discussion on Medicaid reform with the Senate Finance Committee in February 2016. Davidson accepted the resignation of three senior Department of Health and Social Services officials on Friday and named their replacements, including two in an acting capacity. (Photo by Skip Gray/360 North)

Three senior Alaska Department of Health and Social Services administrators resigned Friday. Commissioner Valerie “Nurr’araaluk”  Davidson has named two acting replacements and a new permanent CEO of the Alaska Psychiatric Institute.

The changes came two days after the release of a report that found Alaska’s only state-run psychiatric hospital is an unsafe place to work.

Department spokeswoman Katie Marquette declined to comment on whether the changes were related to the report. She said it’s a personnel matter.

Davidson sent a letter to all Division of Behavioral Health employees. Marquette said the letter let them know they can contact the new administrators.

“She encouraged them to reach out to these newly appointed individuals to talk to them about how these changes will impact the Division of Behavioral Health and the entire department going forward,” Marquette said.

Deputy Commissioner Karen Forrest, Division of Behavioral Health Director Randall Burns and API head Ron Hale resigned.

Davidson named Monique Martin as the deputy commissioner of family, community and integrated services. She had been working for the department as a policy adviser. Gennifer Moreau-Johnson was named acting director of the Division of Behavioral Health. She had been the deputy director.

Duane Mayes is the new CEO for API. He’s already started work. He had been the director of the Division of Senior and Disabilities Services. Deb Etheridge became acting director of senior and disabilities services, after serving as the deputy director.

The state hired a private law firm to investigate whether API employees are safe at work, as well as whether there is retaliation by management against employees and if the facility is a hostile work environment. Attorney Bill Evans wrote the report after conducting confidential interviews with current and former staff. He concluded that several factors make it dangerous to work at API.

Marquette said the division will continue to make a series of changes Davidson outlined at a press conference Wednesday about the report. They include raising the pay for psychiatric nurses at API. That pay hike occurred on Sunday. Marquette said this will improve the institute’s ability to attract and retain nurses.

“It’s really challenging to recruit psychiatric nurses at API when those positions make substantially less than their counterparts in the private sector,” Marquette said.

Along with the psychiatric nurses’ pay increase, the 80-bed institute is looking to hire 20 new nurses. The increases in staff and salaries were included in the state budget for this year.

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