Updated: 2:41 p.m. | Posted: 2:23 p.m.
Minnesota Health Commissioner Dr. Ed Ehlinger will step down at the end of the day, Gov. Mark Dayton's office said Tuesday.
The move comes weeks after a Minneapolis Star Tribune series exposed widespread elder abuse in Minnesota nursing care facilities that for years was systematically ignored.
The stories incensed Dayton, who appointed a panel to respond to the concerns and questions raised by the newspaper's reports. Asked whether Dayton had asked for Ehlinger's resignation, a Dayton spokesperson said the decision was by mutual agreement.
Dayton's office said Health Department Deputy Commissioner Dan Pollock will serve as the state's acting health chief until the governor names a permanent replacement.
The state will be "working to improve its efforts to protect seniors, and properly investigate allegations of maltreatment and abuse," according to the governor's statement.
Ehlinger took over the department in January 2011 after Dayton became governor. Dayton applauded Ehlinger for his work in that time, including efforts to reduce tobacco use and improve community-based health programs.
But the governor's statement suggested Ehlinger's exit was tied to the revelations that the newspaper had brought to the surface. He vowed to improve the management of elder abuse investigations done by the Health Department. Dayton and AARP Minnesota have also announced plans for a working group to make recommendations on improving the health and safety of Minnesotans in nursing facilities.
"We will do everything possible to ensure our parents, grandparents, and vulnerable loved ones get the excellent care they need, the safety they expect, and the justice they deserve," Pollock said in the statement.
State Rep. Paul Thissen shared a similar sentiment, calling the reported stories "deeply troubling," adding that "a new set of eyes" is the right thing for the department.
"(Ehlinger has) done amazing work and I think he should really be commended for that," Thissen said. "But we cannot stand for the kind of behavior at least that was described in the Star Tribune story last week. We really owe our seniors and their families more than that."
Republican Senator Michelle Benson, who is the chair of the Senate health and human services committee, expressed surprise over Ehlinger's resignation.
"I hope that there will still be rapid action on changes that need to be made at the Office of Health Facility Complaints," Benson said.