Nick Krieger (@nckrieger):
Unquestionably, the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) is primarily responsible for the monitoring of pollutants, including those in municipal drinking water. See, e.g., MCL 325.1003; MCL 325.1012. However, the Michigan Department of Health & Human Services (DHHS) is not without some responsibility of its own. For instance, the DHHS is responsible for ensuring that Michigan children enrolled in Medicaid are screened for lead in accordance with federal standards. See MCL 400.111k.
DEQ Director Dan Wyant has already resigned over his department’s handling of the Flint Water Crisis. The DEQ has shouldered the majority of the blame, and it appears that Wyant was forced out as a result.
What about the DHHS? Governor Snyder’s office has sung high praise for DHHS Director Nick Lyon, and it definitely does not appear that Lyon will meet the same fate as Wyant. But here’s my question: Is it possible that the DHHS has deprioritized issues such as children’s health and lead testing in order to free up time and resources for other, more politically pressing demands?
Back in February, Governor Snyder signed Executive Order 2015-4, merging the once-separate Department of Community Health and Department of Human Services to form the new DHHS. Before the merger, the Department of Human Services had been charged with myriad responsibilities, ranging from the management of welfare programs to the investigation of child abuse. The Department of Community Health, on the other hand, had been primarily responsible for one thing: public health.
As I wrote in April,
History teaches that when two state departments are consolidated, the core purpose of one constituent department often takes precedence and overshadows that of the other constituent department. As a consequence, the mission of one of the constituent agencies is sometimes lost in the reorganization process.
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I sincerely hope that the delivery of health services (at least what remains of them), family services, and services for children all remain priorities in Michigan. Only time will tell if the new Michigan Department of Health & Human Services can remain faithful to all of its constituent missions.
Indeed, each time two state departments are combined in Michigan, political expediency tends to drive the trajectory of the consolidated agency, and some of the old focus is frequently lost.
Has the post-merger DHHS lost sight of its public-health mission? I sincerely hope not, and I certainly don’t have the answers. However, I think it’s worth asking whether such a large, bureaucratic agency can continue to give proper attention to its many, diverse functions.