Today, I sent a letter to Gov. Tim Walz asking that he explain to the citizens of Minnesota what is going on within the leadership of the Minnesota Department of Human Services. More importantly, we need to know how he is going to rectify the obvious turmoil within this important agency.
DHS consumes about one-third of the state’s budget. The agency serves our most vulnerable – young and old. DHS has a huge impact on the ability of our county Health and Human Services workers to do their job. Here is what prompted me to contact the governor directly on this matter:
January – Walz appoints then-Sen. Tony Lourey as the new commissioner to head the DHS agency.
March 13 – Office of the Legislative Auditor (OLA) releases a report indicating that fraud has occurred within the DHS Childcare Assistance Program, but is unable to confirm the total amount of fraud that may have taken place. The OLA also finds that a serious rift exists between the DHS inspector general and DHS Childcare Assistance Program investigators.
March 15 – DFL members of the House Health and Human Service Policy Committee vote to block an effort by Republican minority committee members to ask principles from the Walz administration and DHS to explain what is going on within the agency relative to allegations of childcare fraud and the organizational issue surrounding the inspector general.
May – DHS Inspector General Carolyn Ham is placed on paid administrative leave.
June – DHS Medicaid program director, Dr. Jeff Schiff departs. Lourey eliminates Schiff’s position. Eleven members of the Opioid Prescribing Work Group send a letter voicing their concern over the elimination of Schiff’s former position to Walz and Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan.
July – DHS deputy commissioners Chuck Johnson and Claire Wilson announce they will resign. There is no explanation of what lead to the resignations from Walz or Lourey.
Last Week – The St. Paul Pioneer Press reports that the investigation surrounding Ham’s role as chief oversight officer has not started. She remains on paid leave, so far collecting $42,000 in salary while off duty.
This week – On Monday, Lourey resigns as head of DHS; Walz confirms that the Ham investigation is now underway and appoints Pam Wheelock as interim DHS commissioner. On Tuesday, DHS Chief of Staff Stacie Weeks resigns. On Wednesday, DHS deputy commissioners Johnson and Wilson rescind their letters of resignation and are now willing to stay at DHS.
It’s clear there is a crisis of leadership at DHS and we deserve to know what Walz is doing to stabilize this important agency.