LePage to examine dividing Department of Health and Human Services

Posted Feb. 25, 2011, at 5:46 p.m.

AUGUSTA, Maine — Gov. Paul LePage is considering taking Maine’s largest department and splitting it in two to make it more efficient and less unwieldy.

LePage thinks the Department of Health and Human Services could be more manageable and focused if it were broken into two departments, said spokesman Dan Demeritt. The department has about 3,600 employees and a two-year budget of $3.4 billion.

The idea is in the preliminary stage, but the Republican governor wants a top-to-bottom evaluation of the department to determine if it would be a good idea, Demeritt said.

“He thinks there may be opportunities to improve services and make the department more efficient if one agency focused on health and the other on welfare, helping move people from welfare to work,” Demeritt said

During last fall’s campaign and since his election, LePage has emphasized the need for a restructured, leaner state government. But any talks about splitting up DHHS isn’t just about cutting costs, said DHHS Commissioner Mary Mayhew.

Mayhew, who has been on the job for three weeks, has begun a comprehensive review of the department. She and LePage have had brief conversations about the idea of breaking up DHHS, but those talks have focused on what structure would work best to serve the needs of Maine people, she said.

“At the heart of our discussions is the need to evaluate how effectively we’re delivering services and whether or not there are opportunities to ensure that limited state resources are being used more efficiently to deliver services,” she said.

LePage was in Washington, D.C., and unavailable for comment Friday.

Demeritt said it isn’t a foregone conclusion the governor will end up endorsing the idea of splitting the department.

“The governor is just talking about why it might make sense,” he said. “He may come across information that convinces him it doesn’t make sense.”

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