Guilford County department directors, employees and other county officials were stunned on Friday, Oct. 29 as word spread that Guilford County’s Department of Health and Human Services Director Heather Skeens was stepping down from the position she took almost exactly one year ago.
Skeens was one of the most important department directors in the county – and she was perhaps the second most powerful administrator. As Health and Human Services director, she oversaw two giant and critical departments that together encompass more than a third of the county’s employees: the Social Services Department and the Department of Public Health, which are now combined into one mega-department in Guilford County.
The county’s health services have been especially important during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Skeens, who was hired as the county’s social services director about seven years ago to clean up a host of problems in the department at that time, didn’t state her reason for leaving in her resignation letter.
According to one source who has seen the letter, it “was written in all the politically correct language with positive statements,” but did not explain her exit.
One high-ranking county official said it was common for Skeens to get very good offers from elsewhere.
Chairman of the Board of Commissioners Skip Alston said on Friday afternoon that he was aware Skeens was leaving but he declined to elaborate.
Skeens, who received a great deal of praise from coworkers and Guilford County commissioners over the years, was named as Guilford County Health and Human Services director last October after a national search for a new director attracted nearly 100 applicants.
After a long closed session at the end of a county commissioner work session in mid-October of last year, the commissioners voted to approve the recommendation of former Guilford County Manager Marty Lawing, who, as county manager, had assumed the duties of the Health and Human Services director.
Former Health and Human Services Director Joe Raymond also interestingly left the job after serving for exactly one year.
About seven years ago, Skeens took over a social services department that was in total disarray and carried a massive backlog of food and nutrition benefits. The scandal and cover-up that occurred before her arrival placed all the food and nutrition benefits for the entire state of North Carolina in jeopardy.
Skeens came in with what many considered a “tough” approach that cleared up the problems quickly. However, many employees in the department complained about certain changes and the new tight controls. Some Health and Human Services top staff stepped down at the time – but it isn’t clear if that was because they were asked to leave or just chose to move on.