A controversial member of the Heineman Administration has announced he will step down in about a month.
Kerry Winterer, CEO of the Department of Health and Human Services, has announced he will leave the agency in mid-December.
“I want to thank Governor Heineman for the opportunity to lead DHHS,” Winterer said in a written statement released by DHHS. “It has been an honor to lead this agency which provides services that are oftentimes life-sustaining to hundreds of thousands of our fellow Nebraskans. I also want to thank all the DHHS employees who are committed in their efforts to provide these important services to Nebraskans. They are mission driven and do great things for the people of the state every day.”
Heineman appointed Winterer to head the largest agency in the state in 2009. DHHS has a budget of over $3 billion, with more than 5,000 employees. It provides services through six divisions: behavioral health, children and family services, developmental disabilities, public health, Medicaid and long-term care, and the state’s veterans’ homes.
In the last couple of years, Winterer has clashed often with state Auditor Mike Foley, who as a candidate for governor promised to tear down the department and rebuild it “brick by brick.”
Foley now is the lieutenant governor-elect.
Winterer took the brunt of the criticism of the state child welfare system contained in a state audit that sparked numerous bills in the legislature. Winterer told Nebraska Radio Network after that legislative session the criticism had fallen off and the focus had shifted to how to improve the system.
DHHS fired two workers in wake of a state audit that disclosed the agency failed to secure $1.8 million in federal reimbursement funds for programs dating back to 1996.
The clash between Winterer and Foley reached a head when Foley criticized DHHS for sending letters to more than 500 state employees, informing them the Auditor’s office was reviewing their disciplinary records. Foley claimed it was a routine part of an audit. Winterer responded he simply thought employees should know someone was looking at their records.
For his part, Winterer says the culture of DHHS changed under his leadership.
“One of my biggest disappointments has been our inability to focus as much public attention on the Department’s successes, which are many, as there has been on agency shortcomings,” Winterer said in his statement. “I hope that in the future DHHS is better recognized for the quality of the work it does.”
Winterer points out DHHS has established an internal audit group, had eliminated non-compliance with federal and state regulations, has received high marks for its veterans’ homes, has reduced the number of wards of the state, and had improved the quality of care at the troubled Beatrice State Developmental Center.