Top official leaving SC’s DHEC

sfretwell@thestate.comMarch 29, 2013 

 

— Another high-ranking veteran is leaving the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control, an agency undergoing major changes as a new leadership team continues to settle in. .

Pam Dukes, deputy director for health regulation, is retiring after nearly three decades at DHEC. Dukes said Friday she has taken a job as executive director of Senior Resources, a nonprofit group that provides services for aging citizens. Those services include Meals-on-Wheels in Richland County.

Dukes and DHEC director Catherine Templeton said she was not asked to resign. But Dukes said the day-to-day pressure of running the health regulation division was a factor in her decision.

“I’d been in that position almost seven years, and it is a high-profile, stressful position,” she said. “I just decided I wanted to do something a little bit different. This opportunity presented itself, and I took it.”

Dukes said Senior Resources was a good match because she will continue in public service. Dukes, 52, worked at DHEC for 28 years and was a candidate for the director’s job after long-time chief Earl Hunter announced his resignation in 2011. But the agency’s board chose former labor department director Templeton over Dukes and one other finalist in January 2012.

Since taking the job, Templeton has pushed for substantial changes at DHEC and a number of high-ranking agency employees left in 2012. Among those were DHEC’s top two environmental division officials, Bob King and Jim Joy, as well as agency lobbyist Wanda Crotwell, chief-of-staff Doug Calvert and top financial official Tony Lolas.

But Dukes continued, leading an effort to examine the state’s certificate of need regulations – a sometimes controversial set of rules that can limit hospital expansions.

Templeton said she could not discuss personnel matters, but “I do respect her a great deal (and) like her very much.” Agency spokesman Mark Plowden said Dukes will be missed.

Dukes, a Georgia native who lives in Blythewood, rose through the ranks at DHEC, working her way up from a health physicist and chemist in 1985 to hold one of the agency’s top positions. She was a member of the agency’s elite executive management team under Hunter but was replaced by Templeton as a top adviser.

Among Dukes’ duties as deputy commissioner for health regulation was the oversight of assisted living homes, which care for people with mental and physical disabilities. DHEC drew substantial criticism in 2008 after three people died in assisted living homes. But some who know Dukes have said she was a skilled regulator whose department needed more resources.

DHEC is responsible for public health and environmental protection in South Carolina. The agency, which has more than 3,000 workers, has gotten plenty of criticism through the years for a series of missteps chronicled in The State newspaper in 2008. The agency has been criticized for failing to react quickly enough to environmental and health issues, while also being too bureaucratic.

Templeton has launched a campaign she says will make the department more efficient.

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