AUGUSTA, Maine — The sprawling state Department of Health and Human Services, which administers social services to roughly a quarter of Maine’s population, will be led by former hospital association executive Mary Mayhew pending confirmation, Gov. Paul LePage announced Wednesday as he continued making his choices for Cabinet posts.
LePage also announced that Walter Whitcomb, a Waldo dairy farmer and former Republican leader in the Maine House of Representatives, will be his nominee to head the Department of Agriculture, and Paul Sighinolfi is his choice for executive director of the state Workers Compensation Board. All three nominees face legis-lative confirmation reviews.
Most of the attention was directed at LePage’s nominee for DHHS commissioner. Mayhew, who served briefly on the Republican governor’s transition team as a health policy adviser after 11 years as a Maine Hospital Association vice president, promised to carry out LePage’s agenda to scrutinize and overhaul the state’s welfare system so it’s more efficient, better serves clients and weans people from dependency to self-sufficiency.
“We all have our concerns about the Department of Health and Human Services. Everyone agrees it must be held more accountable to families and to taxpayers. Some say the department lacks transparency in its operations and in its expenditures. And others fear that waste and abuse [are] costing Maine taxpayers millions,” Mayhew said.
“I share, and the governor does, all of these concerns. And I intend to address each of them specifically and head-on,” said Mayhew, adding that she and LePage have agreed on the need for a “top-down detailed review” of the department to weed out ineffective programs and preserve those that work.
Mayhew also pledged that the department will not turn its back on the state’s most vulnerable people, but cautioned that “we cannot be everything to everyone.”
LePage, whose election campaign focused heavily on accelerating repayment of a state Medicaid debt to hospitals and overhauling welfare, said Mayhew is “one of Maine’s leading experts on health care” with a firm grounding in the complicated interactions between the state and federal governments.
In Whitcomb, LePage said he found a candidate who is familiar with agricultural policy and has worked with Maine’s congressional delegation on farming issues. Maine’s traditional agricultural mainstays include potatoes, wild blueberries, brown eggs, maple syrup and milk, not to mention increasing organic production.
Whitcomb, who served in the Legislature for 12 years, said many of Maine’s farm-based programs are viewed nationally as innovative and “farmer friendly,” and he sees a potential for the industry to expand.
“Maine really can be and should be the market basket of New England,” he said.
Sighinolfi, a lawyer specializing in labor law including workers’ compensation and disabilities, would head a board whose mission is ensuring prompt delivery of benefits, preventing of disputes and facilitating labor-management cooperation.
The president of Maine Employers’ Mutual Insurance Co., which has served as a competitive force since it was created in 1993 in the wake of a workers’ compensation crisis in the state, called Sighinolfi “an excellent choice.”
MEMIC’s John Leonard said Sighinolfi “has a reputation for bringing people together to resolve problems.”