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Column: Nash: Oversight, Audits needed for Department of Human Services

Monday, September 9, 2019

Oversight, Audits needed for Department of Human Services

In July, I wrote about the numerous issues going on at the Department of Human Services, the state’s largest agency that over a million Minnesotans rely on for services. At the time, we wanted

Unfortunately, the problems have only multiplied since I joined my colleagues in calling for immediate hearings on the ongoing chaos at the DHS. Since the letter was sent to Speaker Hortman and HHS Chairs on July 15, there have been a number of concerning developments that underscore the need for the Minnesota House to hold hearings:

  • On July 22, the Star Tribune reported that Faye Bernstein, a lead contract specialist at DHS, claimed she had been retaliated against for raising concerns about "serious non­compliance issues" with DHS contracts.
  • On July 29, the former medical director of DHS' Medicaid program circulated an open letter saying DHS leadership was "hostile and dismissive" towards the advice and concerns provided by himself and other medical professionals.
  • Also on July 29, former head of the DHS Office of lnspector General Carolyn Ham was transferred to the DHS Office of General Counsel, returning to work despite being under investigation for her role in failing to prevent pervasive fraud in the Child Care Assistance Program (CCAP).
  • On August 1, the Pioneer Press first reported on $25.3 million in overpayments to two tribal governments for Medicaid substance abuse treatments.
  • On August 16, the Star Tribune reported that Mohamed Alfash, who was the equity coordinator in the DHS Office of Inspector General, was fired as a result of retaliation for concerns he raised within DHS.
  • On August 26, Deputy Commissioner Claire Wilson announced her intent to resign, just weeks after rescinding her previous resignation prior to the departure of former DHS Commissioner Tony Lourey.
  • Also on August 26, the Pioneer Press reported that DHS will be required to reimburse the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services approximately $48 million for improper payments to institutions for mental diseases.
  • On August 30, Marie Zimmerman, the assistant commissioner for health care overseeing Minnesota’s Medicaid program, announced she was resigning and leaving the department in early September.

DHS is our state's largest agency and represents the second-largest portion of our state budget. The chaos and turnover has real-world consequences for taxpayers, millions of Minnesotans served by DHS, and legislators as we look ahead to the 2020 session. For eight years under Governor Dayton, these problems were allowed to fester — finally reaching a point where now the problems could no longer be swept under the rug.

Like you, I pay my taxes. Like you, I want my tax money to be spent wisely and not wasted. And like you, I expect government agencies to establish basic controls and avoid fraud — and this is where the Walz Administration, specifically DHS, is failing.

A forensic audit of DHS is needed to fully understand the scope of the issues and to clean up the mess at the Department of Human Services. From $73 million in improper payments to the daycare fraud issues uncovered in the past few years to the turmoil in leadership, the trickling out of waste, fraud, and abuse of taxpayer dollars needs to end.

Once the audit is completed, proper oversight and control need to be put in place to ensure waste and fraud like have taken place at DHS never happens again.  This is also why we may need to either elevate the office of the legislative auditor or create a new inspector general position to investigate state agencies. 

After these stories began to receive media attention, I have heard from so many of you that are simply fed up with the waste of taxpayer dollars and resources. I am too. Make your voices heard, please reach out to my office 651.296.4282 or call your legislator to encourage them to support getting to the bottom and then fixing the problems at DHS.