AUGUSTA — Dr. Dora Anne Mills, medical director of MaineCare and formerly head of the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention, was fired Wednesday.
A statement from Gov. Paul LePage's communications staff said Mills had been relieved of her duties "effective immediately” as a new leadership team is assembled in the Department of Health and Human Services.
The dismissal was a personnel issue and as such, confidential, the statement read. No further information was released.
A spokesman for Maine doctors said he was surprised and saddened to learn of Mills' firing.
“She's a really dedicated public servant, a pediatrician who's interested in all the right things: children, public health,” said Gordon Smith of the Maine Medical Association. “She works 20 hours a day. I've never known anybody to work any harder.”
Smith said Maine has “lost a wonderful, hardworking public servant. I know physicians in Maine feel the same way. At Maine CDC she was like the surgeon general for the state.” She did a good job of informing citizens of immunizations, flu shots and food-poisoning outbreaks, Smith said.
Rep. Tom Winsor, R-Norway, said Mills had been a dedicated public servant. "I'm sad to see her go, but in the end it's the governor's call."
Ed Miller of the American Lung Association in Maine called Mills “a competent public health person."
"We were hoping she'd bring that perspective to the MaineCare program, looking at ways to improve the health of that population and reducing costs,” he said.
Mills was director of the Maine CDC for nearly 15 years under Govs. Angus King and John Baldacci.
“She spoke well to the public health community ... to everyday people in Maine," Miller said. "They looked to her for leadership on tough health problems. She provided that leadership.”
Mills helped Maine decrease its smoking rate from one of the worst states in the country to one of the best, Miller said, adding that she did much to protect citizens from secondhand smoke.
One Democratic senator said she was “astounded” that Mills had been fired.
Sen. Margaret Craven, D-Lewiston, said the medical director of MaineCare, the job Mills had until Wednesday, “is a position where you're presenting what's so,” not making policy or opinion.
“It's just like the firing of Tony Marple, who was director of MaineCare,” Craven said. In January, Marple gave a presentation to legislators about how Medicaid spending in Maine had gone down, even with growing enrollment from the recession. That contradicted one of LePage's campaign issues, that Maine had become a welfare state.
“The next day, Marple was escorted out of his office with security,” Craven said, adding that Marple was “very, very skilled.”
Craven said the firing of Marple and Mills “is a loss for Maine to the degree we're losing so many people that have experience and know how those systems work. Medicaid is a very complex system.”
Top staffers “do serve at the pleasure of the governor, but the whole department is just gutted,” Craven said. “It's hard to come back to the speed,” she said, adding that she's worried inexperienced staff, or not enough staff, could cost Maine valuable matching federal money.
“And last week this came out of LePage's mouth when he was announcing Steve Bowen would be the commissioner of education,” Craven said. “LePage said, 'I don't care about somebody's lack of experience. What I care about is loyalty.'”
The administration has “muzzled” others, she said.
Two weeks ago during testimony of a bill to legalize fireworks in Maine, “the fire marshal opposed the bill, but LePage told him he couldn't testify. Those are the kinds of things going on. It's astonishing. I don't think people realize how dangerous it is to require that level of loyalty for him telling his commissioners they can't speak freely.”
Adrienne Bennett, press secretary for LePage, said Wednesday that “the governor is not gutting the Department of Health and Human Services, but rather looking for ways to improve the agency and the programs that are offered to Mainers. It is not uncommon for new administrations to assemble new leadership teams,” she said.
In December, Mills said she was leaving the CDC because it was time for a change. Becoming the medical director of MaineCare would allow her to oversee and monitor the quality of health care delivery, with the goal of improving the health of people on MaineCare, she said.
MaineCare provides health coverage for 340,000 low-income and disabled people, about 26 percent of the state's population. Mills said she wanted to work with the MaineCare population to reduce the number addicted to tobacco and to help reduce the number of poor children with lead poisoning. Her new job would allow her to call on her experiences of practicing medicine and being a public health director, Mills said.
She also said in December she looked forward to working with Gov. Paul LePage's administration, making sure MaineCare “is as efficient and effective as possible.”
Dora Mills, 50, is a Farmington native. She was not available for comment on Wednesday.