Local MDHHS director reassigned

MARQUETTE — The director of the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services office in Marquette has been reassigned, following employee complaints of a persistently hostile and abusive workplace environment.

Bob Wheaton, MDHHS communications manager and public information officer based in Lansing, said Wednesday in a prepared statement the reassignment “was not the result of disciplinary action but rather allows the department to utilize the employee’s skills in a different way based on the needs of the department.”

The former director, Bobbie Jo Ferguson, has been reassigned to a special projects position, said Wheaton, and will continue to report to the Business Service Center Director for the region.

Luther Lovell, director of the Wexford-Missaukee office, will assume the role of interim director of the MDHHS office serving Marquette, Alger and Schoolcraft counties on Monday, while also continuing in his current position.

“The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services has been reviewing concerns expressed by employees at the MDHHS offices in Marquette, Alger and Schoolcraft counties. The department takes these concerns seriously and has been evaluating the situation since August of 2016,” the statement reads.

Department officials informed staff Wednesday that Ferguson has been reassigned.

“We will continue to evaluate the operations of these offices on an ongoing basis,” said Wheaton.

Earlier this month, Michigan House Rep. John Kivela, D-Marquette, publicly asked Gov. Rick Snyder to look into the complaints at the Marquette office, which include alleged instances of intimidation, harassment, bullying and unfair disciplinary action by management.

Kivela said he learned of Ferguson’s reassignment from Snyder’s office Wednesday. He said he was told she would no longer have contact with or control over MDHHS employees in the Marquette office.

“It’s certainly a step in the right direction,” said Kivela. “These employees, they just want to do their job and not face the constant fear and intimidation.”

UAW Local 6000 Rep. Steve Schmitt, who represents the Upper Peninsula region, said the workplace issues have been ongoing since 2013 and have created a mass exodus of talented state employees.

According to figures provided by Wheaton, 18 employees resigned and one was dismissed from the Marquette facility between October 2013 and April 2017. Three employees have transferred to other offices.

Kelsie Thompson can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 206. Her email address is kthompson@miningjournal.net.