The Department of Health and Social Services is carrying though with plans to close the office that gathers raw data for its annual Behavior Risk Survey. The Survey, which began in 1991, is an analysis of health-related activities of the adults in the state — pointing out lifestyle choices and activities that would impact health. The anonymous surveys ask telephone respondents about such things as smoking, alcohol use, dietary habits and exercise. Working with the federal Centers for Disease Control and all fifty states. The Department’s spokesman Greg Wilkinson says the information is used to determine what needs to be done to improve public health.
Basically, it helps us know as a public health agency, what lifestyle choices people are making that we could help them make better choices.
A similar annual survey is done in some of the state’s schools to determine possible health risks taken by the state’s young people.
Wilkinson says the survey will continue, but will no longer be done in Alaska. Phone calls to Alaskans will come from the University of Missouri. Wilkinson says the cost savings will provide money for an additional five thousand attempts per year on land lines and cell phones. And he says that will provide more data that will give a better picture of Alaskans’ health issues.
Sending the jobs of those who now accumulate the data to an out-of-state facility is drawing fire from legislators. Juneau Democratic Senator Dennis Egan says there are Alaskans ready to take the jobs, and the biggest factor in doing the work is communications which is available in many communities throughout the state.
Angoon could do these surveys. I mean, Angoon has enough bandwidth and enough people that want employment in a community the size of Angoon. You know, it doesn’t have to be Juneau with these jobs, but I think it has to be Alaska.
Wilkinson says the Department would prefer to have jobs in Alaska, but the final decision was based on troubles that management had in finding people to do the work.
Our average employee only lasted about six months. Then it would take us six to eight weeks to train a new one. Our average position sat vacant for 122 days. We had over 5000 missed days since 2005. So as much as we wanted to keep it open here, It just wasn’t doing the job.
Egan says the Department gave no consideration of discussing in-state options with any of the tribal or corporate native organizations that could help relocate the office to rural Alaska where there are people to work for the three hundred sixty seven thousand dollar annual payroll.
The union representing the office’s current employees last month offered several options to moving the service out of state. Among them was to expand its workload to include surveys done by other executive branch departments – such as the Departments of Fish and Game, Transportation and Labor. In his most recent decision on the subject, Health and Social Services Commissioner William Streur rejected the alternatives, saying they showed neither a financial savings nor a way to address the problem of keeping workers on the job.
Governor Parnell has made jobs for Alaskans a campaign issue, but Egan says the governor did not reply to written concerns sent by legislators last Spring.
The issue will arise during the legislative session that begins in January. Egan is a member of the Senate’s Finance Committee.