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Milwaukee Health Department still facing challenges following lead program crisis

NOW: Milwaukee Health Department still facing challenges following lead program crisis

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MILWAUKEE (CBS 58) -- The Milwaukee Health Department is still rebuilding after problems with the agency's lead program were uncovered in 2018. 

It's been nearly a year since a new health commissioner was appointed and today she's talking about the challenges the city still faces. 

When Dr. Jeanette Kowalik took over as commissioner, the health department was under investigation by local, state, and federal officials and there were dozens of vacant positions. 

Commissioner Kowalik says recruiting and retaining staff is still a problem. One challenge, the pay isn't competitive. She says, for example, workers can go elsewhere and make $10-15,000 more. The lead program is also struggling to find nurses in part because of past problems.

The commissioner says there have been five investigations and audits into the program and two of them are still ongoing, and that is taking a toll on staff. 

"Everyone is vested in understanding what happened, what broke down so that we can learn from it. However, the volume of everything that's happening is impacting our ability to move forward. When you keep being pulled for investigation interviews and you keep getting pulled to old files, it takes away from the work we need to do now," said Dr. Jeanette Kowalik, Milwaukee Health Commissioner. 

The commissioner says this first year was really about repairing the damage that was done to the lead program and now as she enters her second year, it will be about moving forward with the lessons learned. 

Earlier in August, the department applied for a $5 million federal grant which would go toward lead abatement in homes. She expects to know by September whether or not the city gets that money. 

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