AUGUSTA — Dr. Sheila Pinette has resigned as the state’s chief health officer a month after taking the job, hastening an organizational shakeup at the Maine Department of Health and Human Services.

Pinette has served as the state’s top public health official since 2011. She oversaw the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention during recent controversies, including a document-shredding scandal and the agency’s failed attempt to quarantine Kaci Hickox, a nurse who returned to Maine after treating Ebola patients in West Africa.

In late February, Pinette announced her departure from Maine CDC, an office of DHHS, to become chief health officer for the broader department. That role appeared to be a new position within DHHS, as the CDC director has long been considered the state’s top public health bureaucrat.

Pinette’s last day will be Friday, according to a March 20 memo from Kenneth Albert, her replacement as Maine CDC director, which was obtained by the Bangor Daily News.

“Dr. Pinette has provided dedicated service to the people of Maine and the Maine CDC during the last four years, and I appreciate her many contributions in key areas of public health,” Albert, a nurse and lawyer, wrote to employees.

Pinette and DHHS did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Dr. Christopher Pezzullo has been named acting chief health officer at DHHS, according to the memo. He joined Maine CDC in 2012 as medical director for the division of population health.

Prior to working in state government, he served as a medical director of university health care at the University of New England, where he earned his doctor of osteopathic medicine. He began his medical career as a pediatrician at the UNE College of Osteopathic Medicine and later served as the acting chief of the pediatrics department, the memo states.

Pezzullo will continue to assist in covering the responsibilities of the state epidemiologist, while Maine CDC recruits for that position, according to the memo. Maine has lacked a state epidemiologist since the job was vacated last June.

As chief health officer, Pinette planned to focus on “clinical outcomes in various populations through engagement of key public and private health system participants” and “work across the provider community to support the department’s vision of integrated physical and behavioral health care,” according to a February memo from DHHS Commissioner Mary Mayhew. Pinette was expected to address the issues of drug-affected newborns, infant mortality and “other pressing public health concerns.”

At Maine CDC, Albert took responsibility for the agency’s management while Pinette continued to oversee the state’s public health strategy as chief health officer. Historically, the CDC director has served as the public face of that strategy.

Maine CDC is responsible for monitoring and responding to infectious disease outbreaks, vaccine promotion, drinking water safety, poison prevention, nutrition education and efforts to manage chronic diseases, among other health and safety programs.

About the same time she accepted the chief health officer position, Pinette agreed to settle a federal whistleblower lawsuit stemming from the document-shredding scandal. A former employee alleged that the agency retaliated against her for refusing to destroy public documents related to funding for a state health promotion program. In agreeing to settle, Pinette, along with DHHS and other CDC officials, admitted to no wrongdoing.

Before joining Maine CDC, Pinette ran her own internal medicine practice in Cape Elizabeth. A UNE graduate, she formerly worked with women facing high-risk pregnancies.

Upon taking the CDC director job, she said she hoped to strengthen the state’s public health system and the community partnerships that support it. While describing herself as conservative at the time, Pinette also said she was “not a political animal” and didn’t wish to become embroiled in the conservative stances of Gov. Paul LePage’s administration.


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