BANGOR, Maine — Friday was Shawn Yardley’s last day as director of Bangor’s Department of Health and Community Services, a position he has held for nearly a decade. On Monday, he begins a new chapter in his professional life as director of community services for Penobscot Community Health Care.
“I’ll be moving from 103 Texas Ave. to 103 Main Ave.,” said Yardley, who will turn 56 in a couple of weeks and is the father of seven children, the youngest three of whom he and his wife adopted.
“The interesting thing — and time will tell — is that I expect I’ll be sitting at many of the same tables, representing the same people that I have on behalf of the city. Now I’ll be doing it for Penobscot Community Health Care, so I don’t think it’s going to be a dramatic change for me,” he said during an interview Saturday at the city office he has occupied for nearly nine years.
“It was an opportunity that presented itself,” Yardley said of his new job. “Ken Schmidt [chief executive officer for Penobscot Community Health Care] has been talking to me for a couple of years about the possibility, and he saw it as a good fit, and he’s right. I think it’s going to be a good fit with my experience and my contacts and perspective. And their mission is certainly consistent with my personal philosophy. I think that’s going to make it easy.
“We do best when the least among us has a chance, and I think they do that, obviously with an emphasis on health care, but it’s broader than that. In my new position, I’ll be responsible for all the nonclinical programming,” Yardley said, citing the Hope House and the Summer Street Clubhouse as some examples.
“And I’ll be working specifically on strategies to get the uninsured enrolled [in the Maine Health Insurance Exchange],” he said. “One of my prime drives will be to develop strategies to get people insured under the provisions of the Affordable Care Act.”
Yardley added that he understood that “there’s a lot of people who have a big stake in this, from the uninsured, medical community that treats uninsured to public health that benefits from … a healthier population.”
Yardley acknowledged the hardships some community members face and “dealing with people who are in a tough place and desperate in many cases,” all just needing that extra help.
And yet he knows the investment involved and providing a “bridge from a tough spot where they need whatever we have to offer for a period of time,” before these assisted people return to being contributing members of society.
“I’d like to think my legacy was that in the work that we do here, that pragmatism really has to come before ideology. I’d like to think that I was effective at finding common ground with a lot of things that start at a place of very ideological differences — left or right or liberal or conservative or however you want to phrase it — and what I try to do is bring those groups to the table in a very pragmatic way and say, ‘How best do we do what we can do with the resources that we’ve got?’ and try to look at the longer range picture,” he said.
“And I think collaboration is a big thing,” Yardley added. “I think back to when this community banned smoking with kids in cars. The thing that we did before asking the council to weigh in was we went to the [Bangor Region] Chamber of Commerce, and being a service center, we thought that was really important. So by the time it came to the council for their consideration, the chamber committed very strongly in favor. I think that was important. Very quickly after that, the state Legislature followed. I’m very proud of that. I mean, it wasn’t anything that I did, but I think I helped steer it in a way that it had a better chance to succeed.”
Yardley pointed out that the the council’s decision not to ban smoking in city parks wasn’t, in his mind, a success, but he hopes that a future council will take another look.
“That’s the process. And I respect the process, and I enjoyed being engaged in it, even though things didn’t always happen the way I thought they should,” he said.
As Yardley sees it, one of the biggest challenges Bangor faces lies in its role as a regional service center.
“It’s sort of like looking at the glass half full or half empty There are some very, very good things that come from being a service center and there also are some challenges and it’s not good or bad, it is,” he said.
With a Waterfront Concerts performance and the Bangor State Fair both in full swing on Friday, Yardley was aware of the debate between positives and negatives associated with such events in the Queen City.
“I’m an optimist and I really believe that there’s pluses and minuses to almost anything. You can choose to build on the pluses and manage the minuses, and I’d like to think that’s what I tried to do and I will continue to do,” he said.
City Manager Cathy Conlow said Saturday that the city is advertising for Yardley’s successor. And while Yardley’s city colleagues are happy for him, they also are sad to see him go, she said, adding that Yardley has become a statewide leader in the area of human services.
“He’s a tireless advocate for our health and human services department and the people who use those services, so it’s a blow. It’s a disappointment,” she said.
Conlow said Yardley’s real gift is his advocacy for those who most need the city’s help.
“It’s an overlooked population. It can be a hard population to serve, and we serve them in all branches of the city,” she said. “Sometimes, not only are they poor, but they have mental health issues at times. … Shawn has really pulled together the services [they need] and really found ways, I think, to be innovative in how we were able to get money to serve those populations.
“He’s also been thoughtful about when services shouldn’t be provided,” she said, referring to his recommendation that the city scrap its dental health program and refer patients to Penobscot Community Health Care, which Yardley said runs the biggest dental clinic north of Bangor.
“It was Shawn’s estimation that it could be done better at other places, and it could be done more comprehensively,” she said. “He didn’t hesitate to say this isn’t what we really should be doing anymore.”
Patricia Hamilton, the city’s public health nursing director and public health officer, will serve as acting director until Yardley’s successor is on board, Conlow said.
Dennis Marble, executive director of the Bangor Area Homeless Shelter, is among those who have worked closely with Yardley.
“I think Shawn took a department of the city and made it more robust and made it much more capable of bringing a range of public health initiatives than it was positioned to beforehand. At the shelter you see the kind of person who needs one or more of those services.
“I just think Shawn’s a class act, so anywhere he goes is going to gain from his being there,” he said.
Mike Myatt, executive director of the Bangor Housing Authority, agreed.
“He just seem to know everybody and just knows every program out there and just has a remarkable way. So much compassion to help people, whether it’s through the work that he does in his office or his personal life,” he said. “He just finds a way to help people or connect people to someone who can help them.
“It’s a tremendous loss for the city of Bangor. At the same time, I think we’re lucky that he’s still going to be working within our community, just in a different capacity,” he said.