Under normal circumstances, working as the deputy assistant commissioner for Children and Family Services with the Minnesota Department of Human Services, Lisa Pritchard Bayley is busy working with multiple divisions within the agency.
Now, however, with the disruption caused by the COVID-19 pandemic and the civil unrest following the George Floyd case, Bayley and her colleagues have faced some unique challenges.
“We oversee all the group homes, all the foster care parents, and all the social workers who do all the work in providing the social services,” she said. “We run facilities for disabled adults, for direct care and treatment like St. Peter’s Hospital for people with extreme mental illness. There is a huge variety of things that go on and suddenly, overnight, we had to deal with the fact that everybody needed flexibility.”
One example she cited was that state law says that if a child is reported to be abused, a social worker must visit that child within 24 hours. A second example would be a person who has lost their job and cannot make child support payments. With COVID, the Department of Human Services found that following those laws was not always possible, so a system of waivers had to be developed.
“There had to be approval with a series of people including the commissioner and then the governor,” Lisa explained. “It was a huge amount of work. Each waiver was days and days of work.”
She said the work was tiring, but exciting because she felt that it was important, necessary work.
“We have learned a lot about how flexible we can be,” she said. “We are doing some new things and trying out some new technologies, new ways of doing things that I hope are going to stick around. It has been a really intense time.”
In Minnesota, the state supervises the child welfare system and locally administered, which means that Bayley oversees the work being done locally.
“Goodhue County is well represented with Nina Arneson as the head of social services,” Bayley said. “She does a terrific job.”
As the state’s largest agency, the Department of Human Services was also affected by the concerns raised by Floyd's death while in Minneapolis police custody.
“It is an absolute fact that Black and Native American children are far more likely to be either in foster care or have their parental rights terminated,” she said. “There are many reasons that we are trying to unpack to understand why there is this incredible disproportionality, and it’s just not acceptable.”
Prior to working with the Department of Human Services, she was an attorney working initially at then-Hennepin County Attorney Amy Klobuchar’s office, then for Wabasha County, and finally in her own private office in Red Wing.
She served eight years on the Red Wing City Council where she worked on projects with roads, bridges, zoning laws, and other topics. She was working on the new Mississippi River bridge project as far back as 2012.
One project that she said stands out for her was the riverfront conservation easement. Developers wanted to put condos on the riverfront, but Bayley and others wanted the space preserved.
“The easement locked into place the protection of that riverfront and now, you can see how beautiful it is,” she said. “We have these new improvements and the riverboat and the bike trail. When I go down there on the riverfront, I am really excited to see that that is going to be there for generations.”
While on the City Council, she decided to run for the Minnesota House of Representatives. Even though her campaign was unsuccessful, she learned from the process of running for political office, and soon after, found the positive side.
“in 2018, Governor Walz was elected. I had helped work on his campaign, then I applied for a position at DHS,” she said. “It is an appointed position. It is very different from what I was doing before as an attorney, but I don’t think I would have had this opportunity if I hadn’t gone through the campaign.”
Being from Red Wing helps bring a different perspective to her work at the Department of Human Services, she said.
“I think it is valuable for state agencies to have people from all different backgrounds,” she said. “I think Governor Walz believes in that as well. He wants to make sure that greater Minnesota is represented at the state level.”
Bayley grew up in Rochester and her husband, Doug Bayley, grew up in Eau Claire but had many family members in Red Wing. Early in their marriage, they worked with the Foreign Service and lived in Poland, Nepal, and Uganda. She attended Georgetown Law School before they returned to Minnesota and settled in Red Wing. he was also an attorney and four years ago, became a First Judicial District judge, helping to create and now oversee the drug treatment court. They have two children, Nora, 21, and Nick, 18.
Community involvement runs in their family. His grandmother Elizabeth Hedin was on the Red Wing School Board, Goodhue county Historical Society, and was the first woman on the Red Wing City Council. Her sister-in-law, Eugenie Anderson, was the first woman ambassador from the United States to any country.
However, Lisa Bayley said it is more than just a family thing.
“Red Wing has a deep tradition of community service and community involvement by its residents,” she said. “It is just expected of Red Wing residents that you get involved at some point in your life and contribute in whatever way.”
She and Doug “feel strongly about the need to contribute to society. We’ve both had a lot of advantages and feel an obligation to contribute as much as we can. It has always been a normal part of life. Our kids have just realized that that’s the way mom and dad are.”