The state office that oversees public health programs is getting a new leader. Dr. Bruce Bates, an osteopathic doctor who taught at the University of New England’s College of Osteopathic Medicine, will start work Monday as director of the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention.
Bates confirmed the appointment Thursday in an email to the BDN.
Bates held a number of positions during his career at UNE’s College of Osteopathic Medicine, Maine’s only medical school. He served as chair of the college’s department of family practice, as the founding chair of the department of geriatric medicine, and as associate dean for clinical services, according to his LinkedIn profile and UNE news releases.
According to his LinkedIn profile, Bates left UNE in 2013 to work for the National Board of Osteopathic Medical Examiners in Chicago, Illinois, where he served as senior vice president for cognitive testing until March 2016.
Bates referred further questions about his appointment to Emily Spencer, a spokeswoman for the Maine Department of Health and Human Services, the agency that includes the Maine CDC. Spencer didn’t respond to questions Thursday from the BDN about the leadership change at the CDC.
The Maine CDC last went through a leadership change in May 2016, when then-Commissioner Mary Mayhew appointed a two-person team to oversee the office — Dr. Christopher Pezzullo, the state health officer, and Sheryl Peavey, who had previously served in Mayhew’s office as director of strategic reform.
It was unclear Thursday whether Peavey, whose title was chief operating officer, would continue working at the Maine CDC. Pezzullo also has responsibilities as chief medical officer for the state’s Medicaid program and works outside of DHHS as a pediatrician.
The CDC has been the focus of a number of controversies over the last two years.
— In the spring of 2016, Peavey oversaw the CDC’s award of a $23 million, no-bid contract to the nonprofit Maine Children’s Trust to take over administration of the state’s home visiting program that sends parent educators into the homes of expectant mothers and families with newborns.
— The number of state-employed public health nurses has declined by about three quarters since the start of the LePage administration, including during the time Peavey and Pezzullo have overseen the CDC. The decline in the number of nurses, who have traditionally been responsible for responding to public health outbreaks and visiting drug-affected newborns in their homes to monitor their progress and address their health needs, became the focus of a concerted legislative effort earlier this year to restore the ranks of nurses. The House and Senate overrode a veto by Gov. Paul LePage this summer to pass a law that requires the CDC to restore the program. The law takes effect Nov. 1.
— The CDC late last year fired its public records coordinator after she authorized the release of a public report to the BDN in August 2016 without, according to CDC leadership, following policies for releasing public information. A BDN review of department emails from 2016 found that the agency’s internal protocols for releasing public information frequently changed and that those changes occasionally contradicted the department’s formal, written policies.