ST. PAUL — Minnesota Human Services Commissioner Jodi Harpstead has enlisted the help of the woman she replaced as she tries to steady the ship at the state’s largest agency.

Pam Wheelock, who served as acting commissioner of the Department of Human Services from mid-July until Harpstead took over on Sept. 3, returned to the agency on Oct. 8. Her new role as assistant to the commissioner is temporary and part time, with a salary of $63.64 an hour.

Harpstead announced Wheelock’s return in an Oct. 8 message to senior leadership.

“I am delighted to share with you that former acting commissioner Pam Wheelock joins us again today for 2-3 days a week until we fill our open senior positions. She will play a special role as assistant to the Commissioner, helping to solve problems, respond to outside requests, sort out schedules, and keeping the ball rolling as we work on our 90-day Plan,” Harpstead said.

That 90-day plan involves restoring trust in the sprawling social services agency. DHS has been scrutinized for unexplained turnover in its leadership ranks, allegations of whistleblower retaliation and its mishandling of nearly $80 million in federal Medicaid funds. A panel of state senators met in August and September to take a deeper look at problems within the agency.

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Wheelock was appointed acting commissioner after former Commissioner Tony Lourey resigned abruptly after just six months on the job.

State Sen. Jim Abeler, R-Anoka, said the agency will benefit from Wheelock’s return.

“It’s good to see the governor taking an all-hands-on-deck approach to handle the problems that have … plagued DHS,” said Abeler, who chairs the Senate human services reform committee. “They certainly have their hands full.”