The new head of the Minnesota Department of Human Services (DHS) has filled several key management positions in her ongoing effort to address leadership turmoil and financial missteps that have wracked the $18.5 billion agency since the summer.
Human Services Commissioner Jodi Harpstead announced the appointment of two top administrators Thursday to oversee the Community Supports Administration, a large and complex branch that oversees services for about 500,000 Minnesotans. The area has a $393 million annual budget and includes mental health, substance use disorder services, housing supports and disability services.
In a message to DHS staff, Harpstead said Community Supports is “leading some of our most significant initiatives,” including substance use disorder reform and recent efforts to streamline and simplify services under the state’s Medicaid waiver program, which pays for services for nearly 90,000 Minnesotans who are older or have disabilities.
Gertrude Matemba-Mutasa, former executive director of the Phyllis Wheatley Community Center in north Minneapolis, will take the helm as assistant commissioner of Community Supports on Jan. 6. Previously she held leadership positions at First Children’s Finance, an organization dedicated to increasing the supply of affordable child care, and WomenVenture, which supports female-led businesses.
“An experienced nonprofit leader, Gertrude has demonstrated the ability to successfully lead diverse teams of professionals,” Harpstead said in her message to employees.
Harpstead also appointed Doug Annett, former vice president at Opportunity Partners, a Minnetonka-based nonprofit provider of services for people with disabilities, to be deputy assistant commissioner of Community Supports, a new position. Annett also served on the board of directors of ARRM, the state’s largest association of residential service providers for people with disabilities.
Matemba-Mutasa fills a position that was vacated by Claire Wilson, who abruptly left the DHS in August; it then was held on an interim basis by Stacy Twite, who will become the agency’s chief of staff.
The appointments are Harpstead’s first major personnel decisions since she took the helm at the DHS in September, and they come as she works to rebuild public trust in a large agency that has endured a string of embarrassing regulatory lapses. Leaders at the DHS have acknowledged that repeated breakdowns in internal controls have led the agency to make more than $90 million in overpayments for substance use treatment services; and also led to more than 200 violations of state procurement law over the past year.
The DHS now faces the politically unpopular task of clawing back excess payments to several counties and two American Indian bands, which say they do not have the cash on hand. Despite pleas for relief from American Indian leaders, the administration of Gov. Tim Walz said it expects to recover $29 million from the White Earth Nation and the Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe in fiscal year 2021, according to a budget forecast released Thursday. Current state law requires the DHS to recover improper payments, even when the state is at fault.
In legislative testimony this week, Harpstead unveiled plans to strengthen internal controls and to form an outside advisory council. Headed by former Medtronic CEO Bill George, the council will advise Harpstead on process improvements, organizational structure and restoring trust in the agency.