The Looming HHS Disaster

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Anyone that thinks that the Minnesota Department of Human Services crisis will soon be a thing of the past is either delusional or they didn’t see Jodi Harpstead’s opening interview on Almanac Friday night. Fortunately for those that want to be well-informed but were otherwise detained, I DVRed the interview. This is that interview:

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The first thing that Ms. Harpstead said is “Well, what I know first is that the people at the Department of Human Services are the same sort of caring and competent people that I work with at Lutheran Social Services.” When I think of Lutheran Social Services, aka LSS, caring and competent aren’t part of the list of nouns and adjectives I’d use to describe LSS. Unless there’s divine intervention at LSS and HHS, those words won’t become part of my list of nouns and adjectives describing those organizations.

When Eric Eskola asked Ms. Harpstead where the problem areas existed, Ms. Harpstead replied “Yeah, well, this year, there’s been a lot of change, a lot of public change, there’s been some morale issues and we need to get to work on all of that. When asked what was the first things she’d dive into, Ms. Harpstead replied “Well, the very first thing that I hope to bring is calm and healing and rebuilding teamwork among the people in the Department. They’ve been through a lot this year and they need to have a lot of that settle down so they can get back to their good and effective work.”

Notice that Ms. Harpstead didn’t mention a word about eliminating the corruption or fraud that Legislative Auditor Jim Nobles found. With Ms. Harpstead, it’s all about restoring morale to the workers. Up to this point in the interview, she hasn’t mentioned a word about eliminating the fraud and corruption identified within HHS. Pay attention to Ms. Harpstead’s underlying message. Hint: It doesn’t have anything to do with eliminating fraud or corruption.

Further, insisting that HHS has done “good and effective work” is like insisting that the Titanic didn’t sink that fast. Here’s more from the interview:

They’ve been through a lot this year. They’ve been through a lot of public scrutiny. There’s been all kinds of comments made about their work and we need to get past that and get back to the good work that they do. When asked about how she’ll deal with the “pretty low threshold” in terms of credibility, Ms. Harpstead replied “Well, first of all, I’d say that low credibility — I appreciate what you’re saying — has not been my experience working with the Department of Human Services and so I think we need to get in there and settle things down, get back to work and do the good work that the Department has always done and yet we still have to solve some of the problems that are there, move on from there and have the Department get back to the work it does.”

Later, Ms. Harpstead said that “The Department needs some space, though, to regroup and rebuild its teamwork to get back to its good work.” Please, someone on the Senate Health and Human Services Finance and Policy Committee that she isn’t walking into a smooth-running department with a reputation for integrity and excellence. She’s walking into a department in turmoil that’s known for “rampant fraud”, corruption and arrogance. They haven’t gotten this reputation by accident. They’ve earned this reputation.

Based on Ms. Harpstead’s statements, she seems oblivious to the things that need fixing. If she maintains that attitude, this crisis will get worse.