Kelly Garcia (IDPH photo)

The director of the newly merged Iowa Department of Health and Human Services says the structure closes gaps in programs that were managed by two separate agencies.

Iowa HHS director Kelly Garcia now oversees a full time staff of 4500 and about thousand private contractors who work on state programs.

“What we’re thinking about is the way that a person, a client, experiences our services and so really the goal of what we’re trying to do here is operationally set ourselves up in an organization structure that allows us to align both our funding and our practice to best meet the needs of people,” Garcia said during a Radio Iowa interview this morning.

Garcia was hired to lead the Iowa Department of Human Services in the fall of 2019. She was named acting director of the Iowa Department of Public Health in mid 2020. Those two agencies merged July 1. Garcia and her staff are now working on a plan to bring the Department on Aging into the agency.

“It’s a natural movement, I think, that ultimately will allow us to support Iowans aging in place in their communities successfully,” Garcia said.

Garcia indicated Iowa Department on Aging director Linda Miller is a long time advocate for a better connection with the Medicaid program, which is part of Garcia’s department.

“She has an intention around her own strategic plan for aging, which we very much need in this state,” Garcia said, “and her vision is to really get those programs and services more closely aligned to the work that we’re doing.”

Iowa HHS manages the Medicaid program as well as food stamps and foster care. It investigates allegations of child abuse and is the lead agency in responding to public health emergencies. Democrats in the legislature have raised concerns that the new agency is too large and some functions may suffer. Garcia held several administrative positions in the Texas Department of Health and Human Services Commission before coming to Iowa and she said that was “a good training ground” for what big agencies look like.

“To do this successfully, you have to have the right people in place to carry out the operational goals and the strategic vision,” Garcia said. “You have to separate out some of that day-to-day operation and build out spaces where folks are thinking about the strategic vision as well and have the space, the room and the expertise to carry that out.”

Garcia described accountability in state government for key public health and social service programs as being spread among agencies and she said the merger establishes clear lines of responsibility in a single agency.