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Minn. health chief abruptly resigns amid reports that nursing home complaints not investigated

In this file photo, Dr. Ed Ehlinger speaks April 14, 2017, to the media about opiate overdoses. On Tuesday, Dec. 19, Ehlinger resigned as commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Health. Robb Jeffries / Forum News Service

ST. PAUL—Minnesota's health commissioner resigned Tuesday, Dec. 19, as his department has been under fire for failing to investigate cases of nursing homes problems.

Dr. Ed Ehlinger announced he is leaving at the end of the day, and Gov. Mark Dayton said he will be replaced by Deputy Commissioner Dan Pollock.

The Dayton administration, including Pollock, will be "focused on supporting the Health Department's efforts to improve the health of all Minnesotans, and immediately working to improve its efforts to protect seniors, and properly investigate allegations of maltreatment and abuse," Dayton's office said in announcing the resignation.

The Dayton news release does not say Ehlinger resigned over the senior care allegations, but the governor's office emphasizes the governor's interest in improving the situation.

The Minneapolis-based Star Tribune has printed a series of stories about people who complained about the Health Department not properly investigating problems with nursing homes caring for loved ones. There even have been reports that complaint forms piled so high that department workers tossed them out.

The Star Tribune summarized its report last month with: "Each year, hundreds of Minnesotans are beaten, sexually assaulted or robbed in senior care homes. Their cases are seldom investigated, leaving families in the dark."

The governor's office said "Gov. Dayton today reiterated his commitment to protecting Minnesota seniors, and other vulnerable adults. Several weeks ago, the governor ordered that the Minnesota Department of Human Services' Office of the Inspector General provide the Health Department assistance in improving the management of its investigations of elder neglect and abuse.Those efforts are ongoing, and will supplement the Health Department's efforts to hire additional investigators to improve the state's investigations of elder abuse."

The department's investigation into nursing home complaints is largely based on paper, but the governor's office reported that the state's computer department will help implement "a new time-saving, electronic records management system."

Pollock said he is committed to improving management of the investigations and he would make care for the elderly and vulnerable a top priority.

"We will do everything possible to ensure our parents, grandparents, and vulnerable loved ones get the excellent care they need, the safety they expect and the justice they deserve," Pollock said.

Dayton and AARP Minnesota recently established a work group to provide guidance about what the state should do to improve the nursing home investigation situation.

Pollock has been deputy commissioner since 2014 after working in several Minnesota state jobs, including for the governor, as well as in New Jersey government.

Ehlinger, who gave no reason for his resignation, has been commissioner since Dayton took office in 2011.

Don Davis
Don Davis has been the Forum Communications Minnesota Capitol Bureau chief since 2001, covering state government and politics for two dozen newspapers in the state. Don also blogs at Capital Chatter on Areavoices.