n After more than three decades of service to the county, Health and Human Services director will retire
by Paul Rignell
Retiring Jan. 17 after more than 30 years of service in Sherburne County, Health and Human Services Director Ken Ebel said he knew from boyhood that he wanted a career in social service.
He was raised as the third of four biological siblings in Osseo, but his parents expanded their home as a foster family to welcome and care for other children in need in Hennepin County.
“My folks and I very much respected what (those county) social workers did,” Ebel said.
He completed a bachelor’s degree in psychology and social work through St. Cloud State University and later a master’s in social work through the University of Minnesota.
Ebel served a few years as a child protection social worker in Anoka County before coming to Sherburne County as a child protection supervisor in 1975.
He moved his career to Little Falls as director of social services for Morrison County in 1985, and then returned for that post in Sherburne County in May 1992.
The county merged its departments for public health and social services into Health and Human Services in January 2011. Ebel reports that the former head of Sherburne County Public Health, Vonna Henry, is now teaching at St. Cloud State.
The duties of some Health and Human Services staff include the matching of approved foster families with children in need in Sherburne County. Children will be placed in foster homes for serious issues, like when their own parents or other adults in a home may be struggling with drug abuse or if a child has suffered physical or psychological abuse from an adult.
County staff of the 21st century take a more proactive approach toward correcting issues in a child’s original home, however, according to Ebel, and he said often children spend much less time in foster situations when the social workers find it appropriate.
Sherburne County Health and Human Services staff also manages income maintenance (or welfare) for some county residents, and they ensure adult protection for emotionally vulnerable or developmentally disabled individuals.
The department’s health workers promote and track a number of initiatives, but they sponsor regular clinics for children and teens, Ebel said, and they keep up with training and preparation for whenever a disease outbreak has reached or is rumored for Sherburne County.
“There are a lot of functions in this department, wide and varied,” Ebel said.
“I’ve always been a person who likes to assist others to get the most out of their lives,” he added. “That’s one of the reasons why I chose the career I did. I’m a ‘helping’ kind of person.”
Ebel had been planning his retirement for early 2014 for a few months, but he said he might have left years earlier if not for the chance to keep working with “excellent staff and supervisors.”
“This is an excellent county,” Ebel said. “(Other) department heads and the County Board have really been good to me, and I appreciate their support.”
He is leaving the post while the county is still in the middle of determining how many more of its residents may qualify for Medical Assistance due to MNsure and Affordable Care Act regulations. Ebel said the early projection of 1,800 more case files still seems accurate (for a total of 3,300) and that the department’s remaining workers are ready for the task.
“We’ve been geared up and going as fast as we can here to accommodate people,” he said.
In his retirement, Ebel looks forward to more travel with his wife, Shirley. He remains an independent clinical social worker, licensed by the state, and he will be vying for election to a term as president of the Minnesota Social Service Association at a workshop in March.