January 20, 2011

Mayhew tapped to head DHHS

Democrats say former hospital lobbyist has more to learn

By Susan M. Cover scover@mainetoday.com
State House Bureau

AUGUSTA — Gov. Paul LePage nominated a former hospital association lobbyist to head the state Department of Health and Human Services.

click image to enlarge

Gov. Paul LePage, left, and Mary Mayhew, his nominee for commissioner of the state Department of Health and Human Services, laugh during a press conference in the State House's Cabinet room Wednesday in Augusta.

Staff photo by Joe Phelan

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Mary Mayhew, who just 12 days ago was appointed to LePage’s inner circle as a senior policy adviser on health care, spent 11 years as vice president of the Maine Hospital Association.

In announcing the nomination Wednesday, LePage said he had trouble finding someone willing to take the DHHS job, so he turned to Mayhew.

“We have interviewed an awful lot of people from all over the country,” he said during a Cabinet Room news conference. “I will tell you right now I have been rejected more by women in the last two weeks than in four years of high school and six years of college and it’s all about money. We can’t pay enough.”

He went on to say that Mayhew is a valuable part of his team because of her knowledge and experience in the field of health care.

Mayhew is well prepared to handle Medicaid issues, and the federal health reform act, he said.

“We have some real serious issues we are facing, and Mary is ready to do that,” LePage said.

Last month, LePage said he was having trouble recruiting quality commissioners because Maine pay scales are set too low by state law.

If confirmed by the Legislature, Mayhew would be paid between $97,323 to $134,139, the highest range for commissioners.

Democrats said there will be questions about whether Mayhew can address the needs of the department beyond hospitals.

Senate Minority Leader Barry Hobbins, D-Saco, said he believes Mayhew can do the job but that some members of his party may raise questions.

“She’s going to have to be a quick read when it comes to educating herself in social service programs,” he said. “She has the ability to do it. She’s capable.”

Mayhew — a registered Democrat — will face a confirmation hearing before the Legislature’s Health and Human Services Committee and a Senate vote.

House Minority Leader Emily Cain, D-Orono, said she worked closely with Mayhew with regard to hospital issues. She, too, said Mayhew will have to learn more about other aspects of the department, but that her experience in the State House halls will help her.

“That department carries the responsibility of protecting the most vulnerable in our state,” Cain said. “It’s not a business venture. It’s very important to our economic viability that that safety net is strong.”

Throughout the campaign, LePage often cited his desire to make serious changes in the state’s welfare programs. He said again Wednesday that he wants to get rid of the state’s DirigoHealth program and that he’s glad the state has joined in suing the federal government over parts of federal health reform.

DHHS also oversees bureaus that help senior citizens, those who are mentally ill or developmentally delayed, substance abuse services, and the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention.

Mayhew, 46, of South China, said she’s ready to do a complete review of operations at the department.

“The governor and I have already discussed the need for a top-down, detailed review of the department,” she said. “We, and all of you, and the citizens of Maine, must know how tax dollars are being spent down to the penny.”

She spoke of a need to change the mission of the department.

“Welfare was never meant to be a lifestyle,” she said. “Yet that is exactly what it has become for too many families who are trapped in a failing system.”

LePage said he will be heavily involved in DHHS, particularly the welfare and mental health programs.

Human services costs and education make up 80 percent of the state budget.

LePage said his administration has received more than 1,000 complaints about DHHS.

“I’m going over there and I’m going to see what’s going on and why people aren’t getting the customer service they deserve in the state of Maine,” he said.

The complaints have included that the department is unresponsive and unfriendly. He said there have also been “an enormous” number of complaints of fraud.

“My goal is to be more customer friendly, to provide good customer service to those in need,” he said. “We are not looking to throw anybody to the curb. We are trying to make sure we provide service they need, with one little caveat: We are going to work very, very hard in getting people to become self reliant.”

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