In the wake of a drowning at a state-run group home and other breakdowns, the head of the state's Department of Human Services on Friday shook up management of the agency's troubled division that provides direct care to thousands of the state's most vulnerable residents.
Mike Tessneer, current CEO of the State Operated Services Division, is stepping down to join the department's compliance office. He will be replaced Nov. 7 on an interim basis by Patricia L. Carlson, who is coming out of retirement after a long career in county-level social services jobs.
DHS Commissioner Lucinda Jesson launched a search for a permanent CEO but was unable to find a suitable candidate after three finalists were interviewed earlier this month.
Carlson will run the division for up to 18 months. She was not one of the three finalists and said she does not want the job on a permanent basis.
Jesson has publicly shared her concerns about SOS operations. She was upset that her management team failed to tell her of the drowning of a severely disabled man in state care until three days after the incident.
Jesson also failed to receive critical information about the new chief of the Minnesota Security Hospital in St. Peter until after he was offered the job in August.
In September, a van driver for the SOS division's jobs program for developmentally disabled adults showed up to work drunk, left two vulnerable adults at a job site and took another on a harrowing drunken ride.
Carlson said Jesson has made it clear that she must find ways to improve operations at the division, which has about 3,500 employees and provides services to some 10,000 vulnerable Minnesotans.
A long, varied career
Carlson, who is 69, comes to the job after a long career in human and social services that included a 14-year stint heading human and community services in Olmsted County. Most recently, she was executive director of the Zumbro Valley Mental Health Center, a nonprofit in Rochester, where she retired in December. She also worked for five years as a county human services director in Colorado. She will be paid $116,000.
Tessneer said earlier this month that he has been ready to leave the job he has held for nine years and thought new leadership would bring fresh ideas to the division.
The division's number two executive, Chief Operating Officer Fran Bly, will "begin transitioning out of her duties as she prepares for retirement next year," according to an e-mail Jesson sent to DHS staff members on Friday announcing what she called "significant changes." Two other SOS managers are also changing jobs.
Jesson was unavailable for comment Friday. But her chief deputy, Anne Barry, said the department is "very pleased" with Carlson's hiring.
Barry said Carlson will help get a handle on current operations as well as plan for the future in a rapidly changing health care landscape.
Brad Schrade • 612-673-4777