Suspended health dept. staffer says she's a scapegoat for lead-abatement problems

MILWAUKEE -- A suspended Milwaukee Health Department official says she's a scapegoat for top-level management's errors that contributed to a scandal in the city's lead-abatement program that first came to light in January, when it was learned that the city may have failed to properly notify thousands of families of lead levels in children's blood.

Lisa Lien

Lisa Lien, a home environmental health manager supporting the Milwaukee Health Department’s lead abatement program, received a 10-day suspension in December 2017 for her role in the mistakes, following an administrative leave. She's been with MHD for 26 years.

In the suspension notice, Lien's supervisor makes a case for Lien's role in Milwaukee's lead abatement problems, claiming she failed to oversee and control the program. Lien "did not delegate the day-to-day oversight of lead risk assessors to the field supervisor and never got lead risk certification, a one-week course which she could have obtained easily." As a result, supervisors noted Lien was "removed from having direct oversight of staff and said colleagues observed antagonistic and preferential behaviors."

"The magnitude of the injustice served to the children of the City of Milwaukee is immense and had the previous division director not been lax in his oversight, the result of this disciplinary action would have been much more consequential," wrote Angela Hagy, director of the Disease Control and Environmental Health division within the health department.

But Lien filed a lengthy rebuttal to the discipline and blames top-level management for errors, saying "she never had any prior disciplinary actions" and adding "the lead program was maintained and developed under my supervisor despite a lack of administration support and staffing levels at only 50 percent," adding "not only is the language offensive and disparaging, it is inaccurate and untrue."

"It is clear that MHD Administration was more focused on using me as a scapegoat than safeguarding our Milwaukee children against lead hazards," Lien wrote.

Bevan Baker

She said "Commissioner Bevan Baker and others were notified and aware of the results of staffing vacancies and failed to assume any responsibility."

Lien’s disciplinary file and her response were finally released to FOX6 News and other news outlets late Monday, April 9 under an open records request made in January. Lien had unsuccessfully fought the release in court. She wants the disciplinary suspension removed from her file.

The lead-abatement scandal in Mayor Tom Barrett's administration has grown since Barrett first revealed in January that health officials may have failed to notify thousands of families whose children had tested for lead in their blood.

Former Health Commissioner Baker resigned under pressure but has denied wrongdoing.