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Lawmaker wants to split human services department

ST. PAUL -- The Minnesota House Democratic leader want to split the state's biggest department into five agencies.House Minority Leader Paul Thissen, D-Minneapolis, Tuesday said this is a good time for change as the commissioner role moves from L...

ST. PAUL - The Minnesota House Democratic leader want to split the state’s biggest department into five agencies.
House Minority Leader Paul Thissen, D-Minneapolis, Tuesday said this is a good time for change as the commissioner role moves from Lucinda Jesson, just named an Appeals Court judge, to Emily Johnson Piper.
“The transition to a new Department of Human Services commissioner is an excellent chance to rethink governance of a department that covers many of the most important and most sensitive services state government provides,” said Thissen, a potential governor candidate.
The department has more than 6,000 employees and spends more than $30 billion every two years in state and federal funds - more than $11 billion in state money alone. With federal and state funds combined, human services programs account for more than 40 percent of the state budget.
Thissen would split the department into separate agencies that provide health care; aging and disability services; child welfare and related programs; state hospitals and sex offender program; and programs providing services to those with mental illness, developmental disabilities and chemical dependency.
He also would move some programs to other agencies, such as adult welfare to the Department of Employment and Economic Development and health care facility licensing to the Health Department.
Piper said she will review Thissen’s proposal.
“Over the coming weeks and months, I will be meeting with department staff, stakeholders and state lawmakers to explore all ideas for ways to further improve the human services we provide to the people of Minnesota,” Piper said.
On Monday, Piper said she would travel the state to get those ideas.
The top House Republican on health finance issues said he welcomes ideas to improve health care and service delivery, but wondered if breaking apart the department would be wise.
“Simply creating five new bureaucracies to replace one bureaucracy might be a step in the wrong direction,” Rep. Matt Dean, R-Dellwood, said.
“The problems are more with culture and leadership and expertise and less with an organization chart,” Dean said.
However, if Thissen can show his plan helps provide better service, Dean said he would consider it.
Such a major change might be difficult in a 2016 legislative session lasting less than three months, and Dean said some human services issues other than a department overhaul must be addressed then. “There are some lights on the dashboard that are blinking that we are going to have to deal with in the DHS area.”
One of those blinking lights, Dean said, is at the state security hospital in St. Peter, where numerous employee injuries have occurred. Another issue Dean said must be addressed immediately is difficulty Minnesotans have in getting information and services they need from the state.
“Those are pretty fundamental problems,” Dean said. “I think they speak to the need to change the culture at DHS.”

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