Health Department accused of more wrongdoing

ALPENA — A former member of District Health Department No. 4’s leadership team on Wednesday accused the department of mismanaging finances and added to allegations made public Tuesday that the department’s workplace culture is forcing people out.

The new allegations from a former Health Department supervisor come a day after Lauren Krueger, who identified herself as a Health Department nurse practitioner, called the department’s leadership team “incompetent” during a department board meeting in Cheboygan.

On Wednesday, Brenda Hanson, who told The News she worked as the department’s support services supervisor for eight months until she was fired three weeks ago, said the department has also mismanaged funds, although she wouldn’t discuss that allegation further.

She said finances at the department serving Alpena, Presque Isle, Montmorency and Cheboygan counties are “pretty bad” and that, if the department cannot figure out how to bring more revenue in, it could close in two to three years.

A complete annual budget for the department wasn’t immediately available, but its 2018 annual report shows fiscal health. The department spent $51,118 more than it took in that year, but had more than $600,000 in reserves, enough to cover nearly 15% of its annual expenses.

Administrative Health Officer Denise Bryan, who oversees District Health Departments No. 2 and No. 4, refused to comment on Wednesday.

At Tuesday’s meeting, Bryan said the agency was “fractured” when she began working there and she has worked to address employees’ concerns. Allegations of financial mismanagement were not made during Tuesday’s meeting.

There is evidence of financial issues at the department.

An audit of its Women, Infants and Children (WIC) Programs from the fiscal year ending Sept. 30, 2017 shows the department was required to repay $997 in unallowable expenditures to the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services. A corrective action was also issued to the department’s WIC Program in January 2017, for the fiscal year ending Sept. 30, 2015, because the department did not allocate salaries and wages based on actual costs of individual employees.

Hanson also supported Krueger’s Tuesday’s allegations of a hostile work environment.

“I’ve been in a few management positions here in the community, along with the Air Force, and I’ve never dealt with such dysfunction on a leadership team,” she said. “It’s bad. And that’s hard for me to say, as a leader, because I was a part of that team for eight months.”

At the Health Department, Hanson said she not only witnessed the mistreatment of employees but also witnessed harassment, bullying, and retaliation from leadership after employees privately brought their concerns last August to the county commissioners who oversee the department.

Hanson said, for example, that leaders would ignore employees for months at a time, which she alleged happened to her. She said the leadership team is able to get away with mistreating staff because the Health Department doesn’t have a human resources department.

“This leadership team does what they want to do, when they want to do it, however they want to do it, and I’ve never, in my 35 years of managing, seen anything like it,” she said. “You can’t treat people like that. If you do, your organization or your agency is going to suffer. Hence, why the Health Department is in this position right now.”

Hanson believes she was wrongfully fired and is currently contemplating legal action.

Hanson said that, after she was fired, she sent the health board a 56-page document detailing what she called “the atrocities” she witnessed there. The board on Tuesday decided to continue discussions on the matter in closed session during its next meeting at10 a.m. Sept. 17 in the conference room of the Thunder Bay Community Health Service, 15774 State St.

“The only reason that I am saying something is, I think my voice can help those people in having a better work environment, being treated better in the workplace, doing their job more efficiently and effectively,” Hanson said. “I do not want that health department to close because 45 excellent people would be out of a job and those people are top-notch people. They’re the ones that make it happen.”

Crystal Nelson can be reached at 989-358-5687 or cnelson@thealpenanews.com.