Dr. Steven Pratt, a veteran psychiatrist who oversaw medical care at Minnesota’s state-operated hospitals, resigned unexpectedly this week, citing “burnout” and a shortage of treatment staff at the state’s second-largest mental hospital.

His abrupt departure is seen as a potential setback for efforts to reform state-operated institutions that have been dogged by complaints of workplace violence, negligence and poor treatment. Since 2013, Pratt has served as the top medical officer in direct care and treatment, a large division at the state Department of Human Services that provides care to about 12,000 people with mental illnesses, developmental disabilities and substance abuse disorders.

In an interview, Pratt said his decision to resign after 14 years in state government was triggered by an “intense shortage” of psychiatrists at the Anoka-Metro Regional Treatment Center. The 110-bed hospital has seen several psychiatrists leave in recent months, and Pratt said that has forced him into the unusual position of providing direct care on the medical units. Pratt said he has been working 80-hour weeks for much of the past six months and simply could not continue.

“You know, it’s been my career’s mission to serve this population, but I just can’t do it now. I need a break,” said Pratt, 55, who will remain on the job until Dec. 15. “I’m just burned out.”

In a memo to agency employees Thursday, Human Services Commissioner Emily Piper commended Pratt, saying “He has always been a strong advocate for trauma-informed care and person-centeredness,” Piper wrote to employees.

Dr. KyleeAnn Stevens, medical director at the St. Peter facility, will take over as interim executive director of direct care and treatment.

“There is a team of dedicated, hardworking people in place who will continue to make efforts at reform,” Pratt said.


Twitter: @chrisserres