Iowa’s Department of Human Services (DHS) director resigned this week at the request of Gov. Kim Reynolds, whose office later told media outlets that the governor wanted to move the department in a new direction.
Under Jerry Foxhoven’s leadership over the past two years, DHS has faced challenges as the state moved to transition from a state-run Medicaid system to a privatized system overseen by managed-care organizations (MCOs). The human services agency also manages food assistance, child-welfare and mental health services, and programs for the disabled.
Reynolds named Gerd W. Clabaugh, the current director of the Iowa Department of Public Health, to serve as interim DHS director, replacing Foxhoven. Clabaugh has served as head of the public health agency since 2014 and previously held a number of positions within that department, according to a news release from the Governor’s Office.
“Gerd has done an incredible job at the Department of Public Health and is well positioned to lead the Department of Human Services,” Reynolds, a Republican, said in a prepared statement. “He will play a very important role in implementing my vision for an integrated, compassionate and coordinated health care system.”
Clabaugh will serve in the DHS position until a permanent replacement is found, according to the Governor’s Office.
During Foxhoven’s tenure at DHS, the state saw two MCOs withdraw from the system amid allegations of underfunding. Foxhoven also came under criticism for his management of Iowa juvenile institutions, according to The Associated Press, including the Iowa Juvenile Home in Toledo.
Democratic lawmakers saw Foxhoven’s departure as evidence that the state’s efforts to privatize Medicaid services have not been working.
“A staffing shakeup won’t change the fact that Iowa families have paid a devastating price from day one of privatized Medicaid in our state,” Rep. Abby Finkenauer, D-Dubuque, said in a statement. “I will never forget the stories I'm hearing from my constituents who have been denied life-saving tube feedings and the family members forced to drive hours to get their loved ones the care they need. This is not a Republican or Democratic issue. This is about how we, as Iowans, treat our neighbors.”
Finkenauer and State Sen. Janet Petersen, D-Des Moines, are calling for a nationwide search to find a permanent DHS director who will handle the job with compassion for Iowa’s vulnerable residents.
The congresswoman has also urged the federal Department of Health and Human Services to investigate how MCOs in Iowa have served residents’ health care needs.