An update from DHW Director Dave Jeppesen: Working to reduce Idaho’s suicide rate

DHW’s Living Strategic Plan: A year of progress toward Goal 3 – Help Idahoans become as healthy and self-sufficient as possible

As the department continues to develop our next five-year strategic plan, we have also been able to take a few moments to reflect on the journey behind us. We are proud to share the work we have accomplished, despite the challenges over the past year.

Today’s post is the third in a four-part series highlighting the department’s progress toward our mission and the goals we have committed to in our strategic plan. In this blog post, I would like to take the opportunity to highlight some of the key achievements over the past year as part of “Strategic Goal 3: Help Idahoans become as healthy and self-sufficient as possible.” This includes work on one of our most urgent priorities: reducing suicide in Idaho. We are also engaging in two areas of groundbreaking preventative work that will help Idahoans live their best lives decades down the road.

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An update from DHW Director Dave Jeppesen: A time to celebrate

I want to publicly congratulate Lori Wolff on her new appointment by Gov. Brad Little to be the administrator for the Idaho Division of Human Resources. Lori is currently a deputy director in the Department of Health and Welfare. She has had several very important roles at DHW since she started with the department 18 years ago. We can point to many accomplishments for the people of Idaho that are linked directly back to her vision, guidance, and work, but I’ll highlight just one specifically.

The eligibility process – where someone in crisis must prove income and other requirements for certain benefit programs – historically had been arduous in Idaho and it still is in many states. Because of Lori’s leadership, persistence, expertise, and guidance, Idaho has an eligibility process that is so efficient that people who walk into a DHW office lobby with a need for assistance can often walk back out those doors the same day with a decision and access to those benefits. If a decision cannot be reached the same day, it’s almost always within two days.

The state of Idaho is one of only a few states that streamlines the eligibility process for programs such as food stamps, Medicaid, TANF, and others, so there is no need for someone to be evaluated multiple times for eligibility for each individual program. They are evaluated once, and then can access those services so they can start working toward self-reliance as quickly as possible. In other states, the wait can be up to 30 days.

We will miss Lori at DHW, but I am sure she will be great in her new role at DHR. I am looking forward to seeing the new ways she will have an impact on helping Idahoans live their best lives.

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A message from DHW Director Dave Jeppesen: May is Mental Health Awareness Month. Help and treatment is available.

If you or someone you know is experiencing a behavioral health crisis such as suicidal thoughts or withdrawal from drugs, behavioral health crisis phone lines and community crisis centers are available to help.

We are focused on behavioral health in Idaho.

If there was ever a time that tested our collective mental health, it has been during this global pandemic. The pandemic has intensified feelings of isolation and anxiety.

Life is hard enough, and COVID-19 didn’t make it any easier. May is the time for us to raise awareness, and Idaho is committed to helping people with mental or behavioral health issues.

In February 2020, Gov. Brad Little, all five Idaho Supreme Court Justices, and the Idaho Legislature signed documents (the Governor’s Executive Order, the Supreme Court Proclamation and Order, and the legislative Concurrent Resolution) establishing and supporting the Idaho Behavioral Health Council, a new three-branch approach to improve care for Idahoans with mental health and substance use disorders.

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A reminder from DHW Director Dave Jeppesen: Working together toward a new normal

COVID-19, no matter who you are or where you live, has changed your life. But as the rate of infections begin to slow in Idaho (only about 10 cases per 100,000 residents) and more and more Idahoans choose to get vaccinated each day, the signs of recovery are everywhere. More activities are taking place, vacations are being planned, and more and more people are slowly returning to their pre-pandemic lives.

And, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently eased its guidelines on wearing masks outdoors for fully vaccinated people: no need to cover your face anymore unless you are in a big crowd of people. That’s good news for the more than 500,000 fully vaccinated Idahoans.

The new normal looks and means something different to each of us. For me, it’s time with my grandkids.

In Idaho today, we are still working diligently to help those who choose to get vaccinated to be able to do so at their convenience. Those 16 and older are now eligible to get the COVID-19 vaccine. There is no cost to you, and it is now more convenient than ever to get the vaccine. If you choose to get the vaccine, you can do so at your convenience. On the covidvaccine.idaho.gov website, you can:

  • Sign up and have a provider call you
  • Use the vaccine finder and find a walk-in location near you (Walmart, Albertsons, Bi-Mart, Walgreens, Customedica, and Fred Meyer all are accepting walk-in customers)
  • Schedule an appointment at your convenience on line or calling a local provider
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An update from DHW Director Dave Jeppesen: We are building Idaho’s future thanks to Gov. Little’s initiative that awards $4.2M to DHW for building and maintenance projects

As Department of Health and Welfare (DHW) staff work every day to serve Idahoans, the department has a responsibility to provide safe, well-maintained buildings and facilities for customers and staff. At the same time, the department’s senior leaders are responsible for keeping a close eye on how to use available resources efficiently and effectively. Together, the department’s facilities teams and leadership make sure building and maintenance projects are prioritized according to available funding and the overall needs of the department and the customers we serve.

Unfortunately, the reality is that sometimes projects have to wait; sometimes, overdue parking lot repairs and demolitions are postponed so that the department can replace leaky roofs and complete plumbing projects. However, the department recently received building and facilities funding that will enable the facilities team to complete many of the projects that have been on hold.

In Gov. Brad Little’s State of the State address on January 11, he announced a new plan called “Building Idaho’s Future.” The plan is intended to put more money back into the pockets of hardworking Idahoans, and to make strategic investments in Idaho’s infrastructure. The funding awards include tax reliefs, permanent tax cuts, small business support, frontline personnel training, and infrastructure investments in transportation, education, broadband, and state facilities – including the infrastructure maintained by DHW.

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An Update from DHW Director Dave Jeppesen: Are you fully vaccinated?

More than 435,000 Idahoans are now fully vaccinated, and another ~146,000 Idahoans have received one dose of a two-dose series. If you are one of the 16 and older Idahoans who have chosen to get the COVID-19 vaccine, I want to thank you for protecting yourself, your family and friends, and your community.

One quick reminder: Anyone 16 and older is now eligible to get the vaccine, and the vaccine is free to you. There are no out-of-pocket costs.

Many people in Idaho have chosen to get the vaccine as soon as it was available. There are others who are busy with kids or work or other priorities and are waiting to get the vaccine when it is more convenient. In the coming weeks, you will see vaccine providers (such as local pharmacies) working to make the vaccine more easily available to you.

You are considered fully vaccinated two weeks after your second dose in the two-dose series of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines. If you received the J&J vaccine before the pause, you are considered fully vaccinated two weeks after getting the shot.

What happens after you are fully vaccinated?

If you have been fully vaccinated:

  • You can gather indoors with others who are fully vaccinated, and no mask is needed.
  • You can gather indoors with unvaccinated people from one other household (for example, visiting with relatives who all live together) without masks, unless any of those people or anyone they live with has an increased risk for severe illness from COVID-19.
  • If you’ve been around someone who has COVID-19, you do not need to stay away from others or get tested unless you have symptoms.

For now, even if you are fully vaccinated, there are some things that have not changed just yet. For example:

  • You should avoid medium or large gatherings.
  • You should still watch for symptoms of COVID-19.
  • You still need to follow guidance at your workplace.
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An Update from DHW Director Dave Jeppesen: Johnson & Johnson Vaccine

The news this week that there have been six reported cases of a rare and severe blood clot in women between the ages of 18 and 48 who have received the Johnson & Johnson vaccine is not the kind of news we welcome, but I am reassured, as I hope you are, that recommending a pause in the use of the vaccine was the right thing to do and helps show that we all take vaccine safety very seriously.

On Tuesday, the Department of Health and Welfare (DHW) issued a press release recommending that Idaho vaccine providers not use the Johnson & Johnson vaccine until more information is available from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). This recommendation was made after receiving information that the CDC and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) also recommended a pause in the use of that vaccine and are reviewing the data for the six reported cases. All 50 states have made this same recommendation.

On Wednesday, April 14, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) met and did not put forth any formal recommendations during this meeting. Voting members are waiting for additional data for a more robust risk-benefit analysis, and that should be available to them next week. Additional discussion may address restrictions for vaccine use in highest risk populations, possibly by age or gender.

Although this is not news we were expecting, this is exactly what is supposed to happen with any new vaccine or drug or protocol: if there is an unexpected adverse reaction, there is a pause to review the data and then refine recommendations. The safety system in the United States works. The FDA and the CDC made the right decision to temporarily halt the use of this vaccine.

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From DHW Director Dave Jeppesen: We are focused on sharing accurate and timely information related to COVID-19 and the COVID-19 vaccines

The Department of Health and Welfare (DHW) spends time every day making sure we share accurate and timely information in various ways including: our weekly media briefings, our website, social media, and answering questions directly from members of the public and the media.

The reality is that telling the truth saves lives. When Idahoans have access to accurate information, they can make informed decisions about their own health and the health of their families and communities. We continue to remain dedicated to keeping the people of Idaho safe through accurate information.

I would encourage you to use trusted sources for information when sharing COVID-related information. You can find the latest and most accurate information on COVID-19 at the following websites, as well as on the department’s social media accounts on Facebook and Twitter:

Data Dashboards

The DHW data teams have worked diligently every day to make sure Idahoans have the data they need to make informed decisions during the past year. We have made some changes to how often the data on the dashboards will be updated to allow them to have weekends off. The new update schedule for the data dashboards is as follows:

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From DHW Director Dave Jeppesen: I’m Encouraging all Idahoans to Choose to get the COVID-19 Vaccine

I want to encourage you to choose to get your COVID-19 vaccine. Starting Monday, April 5, all Idahoans 16 and older are eligible to get the vaccine through enrolled vaccine providers in Idaho.

You can sign up today at covidvaccine.idaho.gov, and a vaccine provider will call you to schedule your appointment. Thanks to Idaho’s pre-registration system, you don’t have make numerous calls or visit numerous locations to get your vaccine. We will do the work for you.

Choosing to get the COVID-19 vaccine will help keep you from getting COVID-19. It protects you from very serious illness and hospitalization if you do get infected. Choosing to get vaccinated protects the people around you, especially your family members and friends who are at increased risk of getting severe illness from COVID-19. And choosing to get vaccinated is the best shot we have to keep our kids in the classroom, protect jobs, and return to normal.

The COVID-19 vaccines have been carefully evaluated and are safe and effective. On April 1, 100 COVID-19 infections had been reported among fully vaccinated people in Idaho. These infections represent less than 0.5% of the Idahoans who are now fully vaccinated.

To date, more than 298,000 Idahoans (this includes those who work in Idaho) have been fully vaccinated. This number is those people who have received both doses of the Moderna or Pfizer vaccine, or a single dose of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.

If you have any questions about the COVID-19 vaccine, you can visit our FAQ page which is updated regularly.

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From Director Dave Jeppesen: Listening to the public during a pandemic; All Idahoans 16 and older eligible for the vaccine on April 5

Listening to the public during a pandemic – and providing answers that make a difference

The Department of Health and Welfare (DHW) has a long history of providing services and reliable information to Idahoans. Even so, we knew from the early days of the pandemic that we couldn’t simply rely on decades of experience and our tried-and-tested communication practices with Idahoans and our partners. This is because we have all faced new challenges every day, that have affected each of us in different ways. We realized we had to listen in new ways.

So last April, we made the most of what 2020 had to offer, and we took to communicating with digital formats. We began a new listening initiative, where we made our subject matter experts available to the public to answer questions. One of these initiatives makes Facebook Live videos a weekly priority. We invite questions from the public, and each week one of our staff members goes live on Facebook with their answers. Our communications staff keep an eye on the comments in the video feeds as well, and stay engaged to make sure we understand whether we are getting it right – are we answering your questions? Are we providing the information you need that will help you to navigate through these uncertain times?

We have broadcast 43 Facebook Live events since April 2020, and we continue to listen to questions and share information in the videos. The topics we cover depend on what we are hearing from Idahoans: Is the vaccine safe? How does the Idaho COVID-19 Vaccine Pre-Registration System work? What is my vaccine priority group? What will the pandemic do to our mental health, and what can we do to cope?

We consider the questions and identify the experts within our ranks who know the answers. Depending on the questions we hear, our featured experts may specialize in immunizations, epidemiology, behavioral health, public health recommendations such as what kinds of gatherings are higher or lower in risk, and more.

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