That didn’t take long, did it? Maybe if the county quit giving services to every transient bum that rolls into town there’d be more resources.

New St. Louis County human service director quits
By John Myers on Jun 28, 2016 at 10:00 p.m.

Dave Lee, who was hired as director of the Public Health and Human Services Department for St. Louis County in April, has quit his new job and is going back to the same position in Carlton County.

Lee, who took over from longtime director Ann Busche on April 25, sent an email of his intentions Monday to top St. Louis County officials.

Carlton County commissioners at a special meeting Monday night agreed to rehire Lee at his old job there which he had held for the past 11 years.

Lee was hired for the St. Louis County job after a nationwide search and won high praise for his understanding and handling of the most pressing issues in human services, especially mental health and addiction.

 

But he told the News Tribune Tuesday that he found St. Louis County to be seriously understaffed for the increasing casework demanded of county social workers.

“There’s a lot of different things. There’s not one explanation … but I need to be in a place where I can do my best work, where I have the resources,” Lee said. “Carlton County commissioners have made that commitment to making that investment in resources and services for their residents.”

Lee said that he was somewhat surprised upon taking the job to find that “resources in St. Louis County are extremely strained. There needs to be a larger investment in services — basically, to put it bluntly, a larger investment in staff.”

Lee praised St. Louis County Public Health and Human Services workers and their professionalism, but said there is simply not enough of them.

Lee said he will stay on for a couple weeks to help in the transition and will return to his Carlton County office sometime in July. He pledged to work with St. Louis County going forward to help meet regional needs.

Kevin Gray, St. Louis County administrator, said Lee could be gone as early as July 8.

“This came as a bit of a surprise,” Gray said. “Even in the brief time he was here he made a positive impression with his passion for client advocacy.”

It’s not clear how quickly the search for a new director will begin.

St. Louis County commissioners reached Tuesday evening were sad to see Lee go.

“There’s a big difference between the two counties, landmass and population. There are just more demands here,” said Patrick Boyle, St. Louis County commissioner for eastern Duluth.

Boyle said he agreed that demands have gone up in recent years due to increased mandates from the state with no extra funding.

“I agree that’s an area where we need to put more focus. It’s both more staff and more prevention,” Boyle said. “We need to make sure our social workers aren’t burnt out.”

“He’s considered one of the very brightest people in human services in the state. We thought he was a great find,” said St. Louis County Commissioner Frank Jewell, who represents central Duluth. “I have not seen his (resignation) email … but it sounds like, while he knew it was going to be a very big job when he came to a much bigger county, he was surprised by how much bigger it was.”

Jewell said Lee had expressed concerns about the caseload for county workers and the apparent need for more staff to handle increased workload with mental health and addiction issues mounting.

Lee has spent the past 28 years living in Duluth, commuting to Carlton County for his 16½ years of service to that county, the last 11 as its PHHS director.

In a March interview with the News Tribune he cited opioid addiction and mental health as two of the biggest issues he’d be tackling in St. Louis County, calling on the increased role of public and private sector collaboration.

Lee cited depression as the No. 1 chronic condition in the area — outdistancing hypertension and asthma — and said mental health and substance abuse have close ties with other issues such as child welfare and homelessness.

In addition to his experience as Carlton County human services director, Lee also worked as a supervisor in that department’s Children’s Services Unit. Lee was instrumental in launching the statewide TXT4Life suicide prevention initiative as well as in mobile crisis team expansion, mental health crisis stabilization (Birch Tree Center) and telehealth initiatives, all of which have benefited residents of both Carlton and St. Louis counties. Lee was named the 2014 PHHS Director of the Year by the Minnesota Association of Social Service Administrators, and has earned many honors including an Association of Minnesota Counties outstanding service award in 2011 and a National Association of Counties Achievement award.

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