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Malcolm gets second shot as MN health chief

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Jan Malcolm spoke to reporters at the state Capitol about her second stint as Minnesota health commissioner. Tim Pugmire|MPR News

Gov. Mark Dayton has appointed Jan Malcolm as the new commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Health.

Malcolm previously held the position from 1999 to 2003 under then-Gov. Jesse Ventura. She is currently an adjunct faculty member at the University of Minnesota School of Public Health.

Malcolm takes over a state agency working to overcome significant failures in its system for investigating elder abuse complaints. During a state Capitol news conference Tuesday, Malcolm said her priority and the governor’s is to fix the broken system.

“I’ve got a lot to learn about the details of how we got here and what we’re doing. That will be job one, just really talking with all of the stakeholders and getting their perspectives and enlisting their help in working to build a stronger system.”

Malcolm replaces Dr. Ed Ehlinger, who resigned as health commissioner last month following a series of news reports that highlighted the department’s mishandling of elder abuse cases.

Dayton said he’ll let Malcolm decide whether further staff changes are needed.

The department is already working to reduce its massive backlog of elder abuse complaints, and a panel that Dayton formed last month came out with a list of recommendations this week for improving the system. The panel wants better oversight of facilities, tougher criminal sanctions against abusers and greater access to investigations for victims and their families.

Dayton again stressed that elder care facilities must be part of the solution.

“The responsibility first and foremost begins with those facilities and the care they’re providing,” Dayton said. “It will be very important that the Legislature focuses on that aspect as well as what we need to do to improve the oversight at the department of health.”