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Health Department employee's "passive management style" contributed to program failures

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MILWAUKEE (CBS 58)— A now former Milwaukee Health Department employee mismanaged the lead program and was accused of harassment by several co-workers, according to newly released documents.  

Health Commissioner Bevan Baker resigned back in January when the failures of the lead program first came to light. Since then several other health department employees have been investigated and disciplined.

Through an open records request, CBS 58 Investigates obtained an investigation in to Lisa Lien, home environmental health manager. Lien resigned in July, after the investigation, conducted by the Department of Employee Relations, was sent to the health commissioner.

According to the investigation, Lien’s job included “overseeing all activities of the childhood lead poisoning prevention program.” She supervised roughly 20 employees.

Investigators say under Lien’s leadership, the lead program violated state and federal standards. The report states several cases of lead poisoning were not handled properly. In some cases, homes were not checked for hazards. In other cases, parents were not notified their child had elevated lead levels and some cases were closed before the child’s lead level was considered safe.

Investigators state Lien’s focus “on primary prevention rather than upon abatement” of homes with lead poisoned kids “reveals a passive, unadjusted management style.”

In one cited example of poor management, investigators say one of Lien’s employees emailed her on August 15, 2017, saying, “the last two weeks were HELL” and he had little to no help following up on lead poisoning cases. Lien did not respond to the email until November 14, 2017. She told investigators she read it on her phone and then it got lost in the shuffle.

Investigators also say multiple employees accused Lien of harassment.

During interviews, investigators write, “not once did she [Lien] acknowledge responsibility for the identified deficiencies in the program,” despite reports from state and federal agencies, which found the same deficiencies.

Instead Lien blamed other health department staff and claimed records got lost during an office move. Investigators say there is no evidence to support Lien’s claims.

In emails to CBS 58 Investigates, Lien denied the findings of this internal investigation, but she has declined multiple requests for an interview.

Lien isn’t the only employee investigated after the failures of the lead program became public. Richard Gaeta was fired in August after an investigation. Other employees have been suspended and given written warnings.

CBS 58 Investigates has filed an open records request for the other investigations. We're told those will be available next week.


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