MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) – The head of the Minnesota Department of Health is stepping down in the wake of reports on the department’s inadequate response to allegations of abuse and neglect of seniors in state-licensed care centers.

(credit: CBS)

Gov. Mark Dayton announced Tuesday that Dr. Ed Ehlinger would resign his position as the commissioner of the Department of Health by the end of the day. His interim replacement will be Dan Pollock, the department’s deputy commissioner.

“We are grateful to Commissioner Ehlinger for his many years of dedicated public service,” the governor said in a statement, adding that his office is working to improve protections for seniors and investigate allegations of abuse.

Ehlinger’s resignation comes about a month after a series of stories in the Star Tribune that showed the Department of Health didn’t investigate thousands of allegations of abuse and neglect in state-licensed senior care centers.

Last week, a group of state senators demanded answers as to why the abuse allegations were not investigated. They also said that a whistleblower in the department was fired after she exposed flaws in the system.

“Why are we continuing to hear about abuse, neglect and harm to our senior population, some resulting in death?” State Sen. Karin Housley asked at the news conference last week. “Why can’t the OHFC retain employees? Why are thousands of complaints going uninvestigated? Why are our vulnerable adults unprotected?”

The state is implementing a new time-saving electronic records management system for the Office of Health Facility Complaints. It should help investigators respond to allegations of mistreatment more quickly.

“This is a management thing, definitely a management thing — from Gov. Dayton all the way down to his commissioner. They’ve known about these problems, they’ve known about the toxic environment,” Sen. Housley said.

Ehlinger has helmed the Minnesota Department of Health since 2011. His permanent replacement will be appointed by the governor.