The public deserves answers about what is happening at Minnesota’s Department of Human Services

The public deserves answers about what is happening at Minnesota’s Department of Human Services

By: Sen. John Jasinski

The Minnesota Department of Human Services (DHS) has experienced a lot of turmoil lately. In June, the medical director of the state’s Medicaid program, who had been in the role for 13 years, was told his job was being eliminated. On July 11, the top two deputy commissioners – career professionals who had been with the department for years — abruptly tendered their resignations.

Days later, the commissioner of Human Services, Tony Lourey, resigned just as abruptly. His chief of staff resigned the following day. Almost immediately afterward, the two deputy commissioners who resigned the previous week rescinded their resignations.

In the midst of it all, the Medicaid director whose job was terminated said there were “serious systemic issues” within the department and called on Gov. Walz to investigate.

There are a lot of rumors floating around about what’s going on at the department, but not a lot of facts yet. The official line from the governor’s office is that Commissioner Lourey just was not the right person to lead the agency, but that doesn’t quite pass the smell test. The governor appointed Pam Wheelock, who has a solid reputation in government and the private sector, as the acting commissioner of DHS. This is encouraging, but you still deserve to know what is going on.

DHS is a massive and complex agency. In fact, it’s the state’s largest. It serves about one million of the state’s most vulnerable citizens — folks who are elderly or disabled, suffer from mental health issues, or are low income. The agency is responsible for about a third of state spending.

In recent years DHS has also suffered a series of missteps, to put it gently. Let’s review a brief, but troubling, history:

  • October 2013: MNsure officially launches and is a complete failure
  • January 2016: Medicaid and MinnesotaCare eligibility problems cost taxpayers $271 million
  • July 2017: PCA Medicaid fraud cost Minnesota taxpayers $7.7 million
  • November 2017: DHS fails to investigate 20,000 elder abuse complaints
  • April 2018: DHS writes off $30 million in MinnesotaCare premiums due to a software problem
  • May 2018: Reports expose substantial CCAP oversight problems
  • July 2018: A privacy breach exposes personal data of 21,000 Minnesotans
  • September 2018: A privacy breach exposes personal data of 3,000 Minnesotans
  • April 2019: A privacy breach exposes personal data of 11,000 Minnesotans

In addition, the Department did not come out looking very good in a spring report by the independent office of the Legislative Auditor. That report found “pervasive” fraud in Minnesota’s Child Care Assistance Program, and serious dysfunction within the inspector general’s office. After the report, Inspector General Carolyn Ham was placed on a leave of absence so the department could investigate her failure to stop the fraud. Four months later, Ham had collected more than $42,000 and the investigation still had not begun.

Regardless of who is in charge, this series of failures and privacy breaches is not acceptable. In the coming days, weeks, and months, Senate Republicans will work to get to the bottom of the crisis at DHS so we can restore accountability, transparency, and ultimately, trust in the agency.

If you have any questions or comments, please feel free to contact me any time. I can be reached at 651-296-0284 or sen.john.jasinski@senate.mn

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