JACKSON, Miss. (WLBT) - The Executive Director of the Mississippi Department of Human Services has been visiting county offices around the state. He is working to build morale while reminding staff the people they serve come first.
MDHS Executive Director Bob Anderson says he was 10 years old when his parents divorced. “My dad just, he was out of the picture completely. No support, no contact. No anything," said Anderson.
His 30-year-old mother had never worked outside the home and the family needed help.
Anderson said, “We did what a lot of families who find themselves in crisis like that do. We lost our home, we moved to the projects. She went down to what we called then the welfare office and applied for Aid to Families with Dependent Children, and applied for Food Stamps, and got us onto Medicaid.”
Anderson says his mother got a job at Ingalls Shipbuilding and stayed there for 18 years.
“Within about 19 or 20 months she had finished her internship, her training at Ingalls, she was able to qualify for a HUD loan and moved us back into our own home and I have never been prouder of anybody than I am of my mom," Anderson said.
One of the challenges he has faced at DHS is employee morale. Many of them describe a hostile environment under the leadership of now indicted former Executive Director John Davis.
Anderson said, “When I got here I discovered, Maggie, a culture that was really troubling. There was a culture of fear here. There was a culture of employees not being treated fairly, employees not being treated with respect. Employees being dismissed, terminated from their jobs just on a whim. And that’s no way, we’re a public agency and we are doing the people’s business and that’s no way to run a public agency.”
With the COVID-19 pandemic, Anderson says the work of the agency is more important than ever for families who are struggling.
“Our SNAP applications went through the roof. And when I say through the roof, we had counties that were averaging three or four thousand applications a month who were then seeing 25,000 applications a month," Anderson said.
Anderson and his team are working to change the perception of DHS and he says their new mission statement is one more step forward.
“We are offering Mississippians young and old, tangible help today to create a lasting hope for tomorrow. If we can’t give them help, they’re never going to get to hope," said Anderson.
The Executive Director is a former Assistant U.S Attorney prosecuting health care fraud. He has also served as director of the Medicaid Fraud Control Unit, and a Special Assistant Attorney General.