Lawmakers want new leadership at Dept. of Human Services

<p>Photo: CPR/Hart Van Denburg</p>
<p>The gold dome on the Capitol in Denver.</p>

Original post 12:30 p.m. | Update 5 p.m.

Nearly all of Colorado’s lawmakers say they’ve lost confidence in management at the Department of Human Services. Eighty-six of the Legislature’s 100 members signed on to a letter to Gov. John Hickenlooper asking him to reform the department's leadership.

The letter says lawmakers are hearing an increasing number of complaints about how the department operates, including tips from DHS employees describing a toxic work environment.

When asked about it today, Hickenlooper didn't go into any specific action he might take.

"Human Services is one of the toughest jobs there is, from the social worker level all the way up to the Director of Human Services," he said, "But that doesn't mean we shouldn't always be getting better and improving when people point out places where we can improve. We're open and listening."

State Rep. Diane Primavera, D-Broomfield, said Thursday her eyes were opened by several critical audits of the department, including one finding that children in the youth corrections system are being prescribed powerful psychotropic drugs with little oversight.

"This is the department that deals with our very most vulnerable citizens in all kinds of different capacities. It’s just really important to make sure the department is run correctly."

Sen. Kevin Lundberg, R-Berthoud, also signed the letter. He said his concerns stemmed from years of working on legislation around child care centers. Owners of those centers and other groups have brought him concerns, but then refused to go public, afraid of retaliation from the department, he said,

"You expect some people to always be a little bit on pins and needles when they go public with anything, but it happens far too often," he said.

The letter does not mention Department of Human Services head Reggie Bicha by name, but does ask Hickenlooper to exercise "accountability and stewardship in correcting or replacing the highest levels of leadership" within DHS.

Bicha responded to the letter by saying he takes lawmakers’ concerns seriously.

"We had brought a number of the issues noted in the letter to the attention of lawmakers and have worked collaboratively in addressing them," said Bicha in a written statement. "I look forward to our continued partnership and collaborative work to better the lives of all Coloradans."

The letter was originally published by the Denver Post.