Iowa Department of Human Services Director Chuck Palmer is retiring effective June 16, Governor Kim Reynolds announced today. Critics including Democratic State Senator Matt McCoy have called on Palmer to resign for months, charging that inadequate staffing at DHS facilitated more suffering and premature deaths among abused children. The department’s handling of Medicaid privatization has also drawn criticism. Despite Palmer’s promises to hold the line, the DHS agreed to pay private insurance companies more for managing Medicaid. In addition, DHS officials have downplayed numerous, ongoing reports of those companies cutting back on health care services and failing to reimburse providers promptly or adequately.
In keeping with Governor Terry Branstad’s playbook when Teresa Wahlert ended her disastrous tenure at Iowa Workforce Development, Reynolds didn’t acknowledge any problems with Palmer’s management of the DHS today. On the contrary, she and acting Lieutenant Governor Adam Gregg praised Palmer’s work in the official press release, enclosed in full below.
Behind the scenes, Reynolds probably encouraged Palmer to move on. Only last month, the DHS director told Tony Leys of the Des Moines Register “that he had no plans to retire.” Palmer ran the department for the last ten years of Branstad’s first stint as governor and returned to the job in early 2011. New leadership might put some distance between Reynolds and the DHS scandals, especially if she appoints someone who hasn’t previously served in the Branstad administration.
Branstad sometimes offered important jobs to people without interviewing or considering other candidates. Today’s press release includes a link to an application for the DHS director job, signaling that at least in theory, Reynolds hasn’t already settled on a successor to Palmer.
Whether Reynolds is seeking more than a cosmetic change at the top of this large agency is an open question. After being sworn in last week, she said nothing about problems facing Iowans on Medicaid. In the past, Reynolds has joined in the administration’s misleading happy talk about the “continued success of modernizing our state’s Medicaid program.” Purported savings for state government don’t appear to exist.
Fixing the DHS’s staffing and oversight issues aren’t among the top four priorities for Reynolds either. Admitting there is a problem may be a bridge too far for the governor. After all, she was a “full partner” in her mentor’s budget policies, which led to huge spending cuts for human services during the current budget year. The Branstad administration also proposed and the Republican-controlled legislature approved significant budget cuts to DHS for fiscal year 2018, which begins July 1.
Reacting to today’s news, Democratic State Senator Amanda Ragan, ranking member of the Health and Human Services Budget Committee, said Palmer had
done his best under difficult circumstances. However, the real problems of a disastrous budget, less staff, higher caseloads, and lack of oversight need to be addressed. The rollout, implementation, and proven problems with Medicaid privatization can no longer be overlooked. We need an open, honest assessment of the strengths and weaknesses of DHS and what it needs to succeed, including funding and staffing levels.
Democratic Senator Liz Mathis of Robins, ranking member of the Senate Human Services Committee, said Palmer’s departure brings an “opportunity to address some of the problematic issues around casework and managed care. I hope Governor Reynolds will consider someone who is willing to work with both sides of the aisle to accomplish more accessibility to critical services like mental health.”
Any relevant comments are welcome in this thread.
UPDATE: Multiple sources indicate that one possible candidate to replace Palmer is Jerry Foxhoven, a professor at Drake University Law School with extensive relevant experience. Foxhoven’s curriculum vitae:
2008 – Present: Executive Director of Clinical Programs and Professor of Law at the Drake University Law School. Supervision of faculty, staff and students, personnel, budgetary, fundraising and other related administrative responsibilities. Taught Ethics & Professional Responsibiity, Law Office Management, and Children & the Law. Served as Acting Director for the 2007- 2008 academic year.
2006 – 2011: Director, Joan & Lyle Middleton Center for Children’s Rights and Clinical Professor at the Drake University School of Law. Director of a state and national advocacy center on children’s rights issues. Instructor of juvenile law for third-year law students in a clinical setting, with supervision of those students in juvenile court proceedings, and co-supervision of students in the Legislative Practice Program as they draft bills and lobby for passage of bills pertaining to issues involving youth.
2000 – 2006: Administrator, Iowa Child Advocacy Board. Chief executive officer of an independent state agency with an annual budget of almost $2 million, a full and part time staff of approximately 45 people, 25 independent contractors, and almost 1,000 volunteers. Responsible for development and implementation of personnel policies, budget design and compliance, strategic planning, public representation of the agency, and public policy advocacy. Answerable to a nine- member state board. Director of two separate child welfare advocacy programs: Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) and Iowa Citizen Foster Care Review Board (ICFCRB) programs.
1977 – 2000: 23 years of experience as a practicing attorney, with strong emphasis on trial practice in criminal and civil law, in both Federal and State Courts. Extensive involvement in juvenile and family law cases. Recognized in Who’s Who in America Law in numerous editions. Board of Governors, Iowa Trial Lawyers Association, 1998-2000. Awarded an A-V rating (highest possible professional and ethical ratings) from Martindale-Hubbell. Member, Outstanding Lawyers of America (membership is by invitation only and limited to 100 members per state).
Drake University Law School; Des Moines, Iowa, Juris Doctor, 1977
(Staff member, Drake Law Review).
Morningside College; Sioux City, Iowa, Bachelor of Science, 1974
(Graduated Summa Cum Laude). 2|Page
PROFESSIONAL SPEAKING EXPERIENCE.
Spoke at over 200 professional seminars and trainings to educators, law school professors, attorneys, judges, social workers and other professionals. (A detailed list will be supplied on request.)
Published 5 law review articles, 25 magazine articles, 6 newspaper articles, and 1 pamphlet. (A detailed list will be supplied on request.)
Member, Iowa Ethics Grievance Commission (appointed by Chief Justice Mark Cady), Iowa Judicial Branch, 2013 – present.
Steering Committee, Guardianship and Conservatorship Reform Task Force (appointed by Chief Justice Mark Cady), Judicial Branch, 2015 – present.
Chair, Iowa Juvenile Home Protection Task Force (appointed by Governor Branstad), 2013.
Member, Children’s Disability Services Workgroup, Mental Health and Disability Services Redesign Project, DHS, 2011- 2013; Co-chair, present.
Member, Iowa Criminal Appointment Standards Committee, Iowa State Public Defender, 2013.
Board of Directors, Iowa Friends of CASA and ICFCRB, 2013 – 2015.
Chair, Iowa Child Welfare Advisory Committee (appointed by Governor Chet Culver and confirmed by the Iowa Senate) 2008 – present.
Board of Directors, National CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocate), 2006 – 2009.
Disproportionate Minority Contact Committee member, a Committee of the Iowa Juvenile Justice Advisory Council, 2005 – present.
Member, Iowa Children’s Justice State Council (A program of the Iowa Supreme Court), 2007 – 2015.
Member, Iowa Child Policy Coalition, 2007 – present. 3|Page
Member, Iowa Child Protection Council, 2003 – present (Chair, 2004 – present).
Member, Iowa Citizen Review Panel, 2003 – present (Chair, 2004 – present).
Member, National Advisory Board, Fostering Families Today Magazine, 2001 – present.
Member, Oversight Committee, Iowa Supreme Court Select Committee to Review State Court Practices in Child Welfare Matters, (Court Improvement Project), 2000 – 2007.
Senior Fellow, Center for Adoption Research, University of Massachusetts, 2002 – 2004.
Board of Directors, Iowa Friends of Foster Children Foundation, 1999 – 2003 (President, 2000-2003).
Board of Directors, National Association of Foster Care Reviewers, 1989 – 2002 (President, 1997, 1999 – 2002).
Governing Board Member, Kidsake, Iowa’s Special Needs Adoption Project, 2000 – 2002.
Member, National Foster Care Advisory Committee, Child Welfare League of America, 1998 – 2000.
Enhanced QUality Improvement Project (EQUIP), a three-year, three million- dollar project co-sponsored by the Federal Government (Children’s Bureau, Department of Health and Human Services) and the National Association of Foster Care Reviewers, 1997- 1999 (Chair, Oversight Committee; Chair, Advisory Committee).
Senior Fellow, Center for Adoption Research, University of Massachusetts, 2002 – 2004.
Member, National Foster Care Advisory Committee, Child Welfare League of America, 1998-2000.
Guest Lecturer, University of Osteopathic Medicine and Surgery (1990- 1992).
Guest Lecturer, Des Moines General Hospital, Residency Program (1991- 1992).
Board of Directors, Churches United Homeless Shelter (2003- 2005). 4|Page
SPECIAL RECOGNITION AND AWARDS.
“Friend of Children” Award, The Coalition for Family and Children Services in Iowa, Des Moines, Iowa, 2016.
“Leland Forest Outstanding Professor” Award, Drake University Law School, 2013.
“Outstanding Contribution to the Well-Being of Children and Youth” Award, YESS, Ames, Iowa 2013.
“Friend of BLSA” Award, Black Law Student Association, Drake University Law School, 2013.
“Margaret Hess Leadership in Family Empowerment (LIFE)” Award, Youth and Shelter Services, Ames, Iowa, 2013.
“American Dreams” Award, Iowa Friends of Foster Children Foundation, 2008.
“Student Bar Association’s President’s Award: Faculty Member of the Year”, Drake University Law School, 2008 and 2010.
“Champion for Children” Award, Prevent Child Abuse Iowa, 2007.
“Friend to Iowa’s Foster/Adopted Youth and Alumni” Award, Elevate to Inspire, Children & Families of Iowa, 2007.
“Angel in Adoption” Award, Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute, Washington, D.C., 2004.
“Leader of the Year” Award, Iowa Governor Thomas J. Vilsack, 2002.
SECOND UPDATE: From Barbara Rodriguez’s report for the Associated Press:
Sen. Matt McCoy, D-Des Moines, led informal legislative meetings this session on DHS and its oversight of children. He said a new director should comprehensively evaluate all senior management to deal with any remaining problems in child welfare.
“This is only a victory if the new governor demands accountability from DHS,” he said. “I believe strongly that the problem starts at the top, but also, problems exist and are systematic within the management team that remains.” […]
“We should continually be asking ourselves what we can do different,” she said at a Tuesday press conference when asked about the agency. “There will be a thorough overview, oversight of existing policies and procedures.”
A joint legislative oversight committee will meet Monday to begin reviewing DHS and the state’s process for overseeing children. Palmer is expected to testify at the meeting, according to Rep. Bobby Kaufmann, R-Wilton, who will help lead the committee.
May 31 press release from the governor’s office:
Charles Palmer announces retirement as director of the Department of Human Services
(DES MOINES) – Today, Gov. Kim Reynolds announced that she has received Charles (Chuck) Palmer’s retirement as director of the Iowa Department of Human Services effective June 16, 2017. The Iowa DHS’ mission is “to help Iowans achieve healthy, safe, stable, and self-sufficient lives through its programs and services.” A photo of Palmer can be found here.
“Chuck has been a dedicated public servant who has spent his life trying to improve the lives of Iowans,” Gov. Reynolds said. “He has been instrumental in modernizing our Medicaid program, implementing our Iowa Health and Wellness Plan, and launching our Mental Health and Disability redesign, while helping individuals and families achieve safe, stable, self-sufficient and healthy lives. I want to wish him well as he enjoys his retirement with his wife and family.”
Lt. Gov. Adam Gregg thanked Chuck Palmer for his service saying, “Running the Department of Human Services is often times a very tough job. I want to thank Chuck for his professionalism and dedication to helping Iowans and wish him a happy retirement.”
Upon retiring Palmer said, “It has been an honor to serve the people of Iowa as the director of the Department of Human Services. Through the many accomplishments that the men and women in this agency have achieved, we have made a significant difference in the lives of vulnerable Iowans. Serving under the Branstad-Reynolds Administration was a great privilege. I believe the time is right for me to retire from my position as director and I stand ready to assist in any way to assure a smooth transition.”
Gov. Terry Branstad named Palmer the director of DHS twice, once in 1989 where he served as director of DHS until 1999, and again in 2011. Before serving as director of DHS, Chuck was the Department’s administrator of the Division of Mental Health. He spent more than a decade as president for Iowans for Social and Economic Development, and he also served as the director of planning and allocation of the United Way of Greater Des Moines.
Chuck Palmer began his career as a psychiatric social worker at the Des Moines Child Guidance Center in 1964, and went on to serve there as the chief psychiatric social worker. He has been active in professional associations including leadership within the National Association of Social Workers, and has received local, state and national awards recognizing his excellence in service. Palmer has taught academic courses and served on many non-profit boards throughout his career.
Palmer holds a Bachelor’s of Arts degree in Sociology and Anthropology from Grinnell College, and a Master of Arts in Social Services Administration from the University of Chicago.
Interested candidates wishing to apply to be the next director of DHS can find the job posting here.