Health and Human Services is not ‘troubled’


Reports of the department’s problems have overshadowed a long list of real accomplishments.

I am writing for the nearly 4,000 dedicated employees of the Department of Health and Human Services about the mythology that the DHHS is a “troubled” department. Numerous reports presented to the Legislature’s Health and Human Services Committee regarding the new DHHS are available. Also available is an article I wrote for the February 2006 issue of the Maine Health Forum that can be accessed at

The DHHS was created through the reorganization of the former Departments of Behavioral and Developmental Services and Human Services in order to correct problems and to create a high-performing organization. Those expectations have been mostly achieved through the efforts of the DHHS employees who work tirelessly on behalf of Maine’s most vulnerable people. That reorganization also resulted in annual savings of $5.8 million for Maine taxpayers.

Problems with implementation of the MaineCare Claims Management System have dominated the news. Development of the system began in 2001, before the DHHS was created. Employees of the Offices of MaineCare Services and Financial Services have worked to make the system successful and to maintain Medicaid cash flow.

A recent report from the Federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services expressed support for the system based on the leadership, project management and planning efforts of the DHHS and the Department of Administrative and Financial Services.

Following are accomplishments of the DHHS that are a tribute to the many dedicated employees of the department:

• Improved financial and budget management;

• One of top five states in mental health services;

• Second in the nation in mental retardation services;

• Sixth in the nation in the Food Stamp access index for federal fiscal year 2004;

• Fifth most improved in the nation in the Food Stamp Program error rate for federal fiscal year 2005;

• Youth cigarette smoking declined from 37.8 percent in 1995 to 16.2 percent in 2005;

• Maine ranks 4th lowest in the nation in teen pregnancy rates;

• Maine improved to 7th nationally in the well being of its children;

• Maine has the nation’s lowest infant mortality rate;

• Initiated a major effort to prevent youth suicide;

• Implemented strategic reorganization of the Office of MaineCare Services;

• Continued efforts to improve long-term care;

• 533 fewer children are in foster care compared to three years ago;

• 179 fewer children are in residential care since the fall of 2004;

• Children in state custody living in extended family care increased from 10 percent to 18 percent;

• High school student use of alcohol, marijuana and cigarettes has declined;

• Recognized as one of 10 states showing “promising practice” strategies for Food Stamp outreach; and,

• Recognized by CMS for effective Medicare Part D outreach.

These facts are indisputable and readily available regarding the successful performance of the DHHS for which its employees deserve credit.

Jack Nicholas is the former commissioner of the Department of Health and Human Services.