Ideology guides hiring at DHHS while chaos reigns

Please hop aboard the way-back machine for a short trip.

It's August 2011, and Paul LePage has been governor for seven months. After experiencing difficulty finding a director of Health and Human Services, the governor appoints Mary Mayhew, a former lobbyist for the Maine Hospital Association.

Some people voice concern that she has had no experience running such a large organization, and certainly no direct experience with human services delivery.

By August, Mayhew has relieved eight of the department's veteran supervisors, people who were apparently not providing her, or the governor, with the right answers.

A disastrous legislative session follows as lawmakers try to obtain accurate numbers from the new DHHS management team. Those numbers never appear, and it eventually becomes apparent that the 2012-2013 budget has been based upon inaccurate DHHS estimates.

Let's now fast-fast forward to 2013, where we find little relief in the chaos at DHHS.

First, the agency is embroiled in a dispute with the federal government over human rights and staffing violations at the Riverview Psychiatric Center in Augusta. The feds have threatened to withdraw $20 million in annual support for the hospital.

Although knowing about the problem for months, DHHS fails to bring the deficiencies to the attention of the Legislature, where staffing and funding problems might have been solved.

Instead, in September, the governor calls an emergency session to propose a solution. Legislators approve the LePage plan despite confusion and misgivings about its effectiveness.

In a floor speech, Rep. Mike Carey, D-Lewiston, tells fellow legislators that the plan "does not solve the significant human rights, management and staff problems at Riverview."

By early December, it becomes clear Carey and others were right on target; the feds have withdrawn the $20 million and the person overseeing a consent decree governing the treatment of mental health patients in state custody tells the Legislature the LePage plan has done nothing to solve the most significant deficiencies at Riverview.

Second, it becomes clear DHHS selected the wrong contractor to provide non-emergency-care transportation for most of the state's MaineCare recipients.

Rides are scheduled, but vehicles never show up. Drivers are dispatched, only to find another driver has already picked up a client. Physicians and agencies are angry because patients do not appear for appointments.

Now, the Lewiston-based operator, Coordinated Transportation Services, says it needs more money, and Mayhew actually seems open to the possibility of providing it.

Third, it becomes clear that Mayhew and officials at the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention have totally mismanaged a process to distribute money to Healthy Maine Partnerships across the state.

In a recent report to the Legislature, the impartial Office of Program Evaluation and Government Accountability finds that records were ordered destroyed, while other records were falsely manufactured after a public-records request from the Sun Journal and two Lewiston legislators, Margaret Craven and Peggy Rotundo.

OPEGA also finds that subjective criteria was used in the process, while relevant criteria was ignored. In one case, a Healthy Maine provider was selected over another that had higher scores as a favor to a person CDC officials liked.

Fourth, Mayhew and the governor handed a $925,000 no-bid contract to an out-of-state contractor and conservative stalwart to find ways to eliminate people from MaineCare coverage.

That contractor has missed his first deadline by two weeks. The explanation: DHHS could not produce the information he needs to do the work.

Three years into the LePage administration, it is evident that the purge of experienced administrators in 2011 has resulted in continuing chaos at DHHS.

But if that's a problem, it is certainly not yet recognized at DHHS.

On Dec. 2, Mayhew hired Sam Adolphsen as the department's top financial person. Adolphsen, a 2008 Husson College graduate, has no business or government financial experience, earning his stripes instead at the Maine Heritage Policy Center.

He now finds himself overseeing a $2.8 billion budget at DHHS, the person in charge of 40 percent of state government spending.

While we wait to see how this works out, it's fair to question whether Adolphsen was really the most highly qualified person for a job requiring intimate knowledge of finance, accounting and federal regulation.

The message of the past three years at DHHS is simple: Chaos and poor performance are the price to be paid when ideology becomes more important than competency in hiring.

rrhoades@sunjournal.com

The opinions expressed in this column reflect the views of the ownership and the editorial board.

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Comments

Let's be fair

Understand that this is about the management, not the staff who interface with the public. I visit DHHS offices almost every day as part of my job, and the folks I meet when repairing their printers are good, hard working (and overworked) folks who appear to be unaffected by the politics, who just focus on what they are there to do. They do their jobs, and I actually don't hear belly-aching about how overworked they are, even though the piles of papers indicate they have a hell of a lot to do. Even at the CDC offices.

JOANNE MOORE's picture

When are people going to get it?

This is what the GOPers do! They hate government so instead of killing it from the outside, they appoint others to cannibalize it from the inside like the parasites they are. They know that without the middle class there is no democracy so they start gutting at the bottom and work their way up. If you are comfortable that only the poor are getting wacked, be prepared to be next in line. State retirements will be cut or used for "other" purposes. Maintanance on infrastructure will be de-funded so that when bridges (for instance) fail they can give lucrative no bid contracts to their buddies, who will then do shoddy work that will have to be redone costing even more.
They want to privatize all the business of government so that Wall street can take its cut off the top. Think Social Security.
They demonize the poor now but the middle class is in their crosshairs. When enough of the comfortable middle class gets it, we might see a revolution. Or not.

JERRY ARIPEZ's picture

In laymen terms;

They all are one huge cluster screw ups...Cronyism at its best with an entire crew of incompetent, untrained, under qualified personnel starting at the top with LePage and all the way down to the bottom of the rung on the ladder with his daughter on the payroll...

High times for investigations, resignations, jail time and charging LePage with malfeasance.

Lets be real here folks...Prime example....Sam Adolphsen as the department's TOP FINANCIAL person.------ Adolphsen, a 2008 Husson College graduate, has no business or government financial experience, earning his stripes instead at the Maine Heritage Policy Center.

Mayhew my be getting a little on the side, but the rest of Mainers are really getting the big screw....

CLAIRE GAMACHE's picture

the business model

Conservatives like to tell us that the problem with government is that it needs to run like a business. As bad as things are at DHHS it is not the only department with problems. There are problems with the prisons, and most of the school budgets were messed up. We have to go back to vote again on the Lewiston school budget and the Auburn budget did not get passed in time to order supplies for the start of school. Since department heads are not speaking to the legislature we will not find out how bad things are in the other departments until disaster hits somewhere. Nearly all departments have expressed that they are severely understaffed and cannot function properly. Any business that is run as poorly as the State of Maine at this moment would have gone out of business and shut its doors by now. That is the difference between business and government. Your bad businesses are weeded out by natural attrition and are replaced by better ones. Bad government just builds up more and more pain for its citizens who have no recourse until the next election.

AL PELLETIER's picture

Chomping at the bit?

I'll bet there's a whole bunch of readers chomping at the bit to put in their two cents but don't want to be the first. Well, I'll be happy to step up to the plate.
In the past five years Maine has lost $20 million in federal funds, the ability to provide health insurance to 70,000 Mainers paid by the fed and people requiring medical attention left on the curb waiting for their ride.
Now Lepage has given away $995,200.00 of OUR money to some flat lander to tell us that Lepage has done the right thing.
The incompetency is at the very top and it's time for a drastic shake up in Augusta.

RONALD RIML's picture

Give THIS Flatlander a Cool Million and I'll tell you True about

LePage....even 50 Grand will do it.......

It's simple: Mayhew is still here, and Dale McCormick is gone.

PAUL ST JEAN's picture

"You're selling yourself too

"You're selling yourself too cheap; you'll never get anywhere.", said the haughty parrot, himself, a flatlander who claims he would tell us all we need to know about Mr. LePage for a half dozen crispy soda crackers.
Methinks the guvnah has got himself all wrapped up in a ball of s**t.

CLAUDETTE THERRIAULT's picture

I agree

Mainers should be outraged at the way this department is being run. It's time to call for Mayhew's resignation.

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