Dr. Dora Anne Mills, who headed up the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention for the past 14 years, was fired Wednesday from her new post as the medical director at MaineCare, the state’s Medicaid program for low-income and disabled residents.
The statement Wednesday from the Maine Department of Health and Human Services was terse: “As DHHS continues to assemble its new leadership team, Dr. Dora Anne Mills has been relieved of her duties as Medical Director at the Office of MaineCare Services (OMS) effective immediately. DHHS will continue to assess and evaluate the administrative responsibilities at OMS. We wish Dr. Mills the best in future endeavors.”
Reached on Wednesday, Mills declined to comment on her ouster.
Mills is widely respected in the public health community and is credited with a number of public health successes in Maine during her tenure. They include initiatives to drive down the rates of tobacco use and teen pregnancy, reduce childhood obesity and respond to last winter’s H1N1 influenza outbreak. In 2007, the American Medical Association recognized her work in improving Maine’s public health system, awarding her the Dr. Nathan Davis Award for Outstanding Government Service.
Mills, a pediatrician by training, left the Maine CDC in December after the election of Gov. Paul LePage and a Republican Legislature, citing the need for a change. She was hired at MaineCare by former MaineCare Director Tony Marple, who has since been replaced with an acting director. Another acting director, former state epidemiologist Dr. Stephen Sears, also is serving as the head of the Maine CDC.
News of Mills’ dismissal surprised the public health community.
“I am shocked,” said Tina Pettingill, executive director of the Maine Public Health Association. “Though I was sad to see her leave the CDC, I was thrilled that she was going over to MaineCare.”
Pettingill said Mills’ public health perspective would have been invaluable at MaineCare, providing a strong emphasis on disease prevention and improving the management of chronic disease.
Mills not only is committed to public health and good medicine, she said, but also has been successful in using available funding to obtain matching public health dollars from public and private sources. In addition, she said, Mills has actively sought out partnerships with hospitals, schools and local agencies to expand public health campaigns. The most visible of these efforts resulted in the statewide Healthy Maine Partnerships program, which provides programming and resources at the community level throughout the state.
Shawn Yardley, director of the Bangor Department of Public Health, said Mills has been “the face of public health in Maine” for many years. Her success in establishing an eight-region statewide public health system paves the way for continued improvement and the equitable distribution of scarce funds, he said. Mills also has moved the state closer to an important accreditation that will make Maine more competitive in applying for grant funding, Yardley said.
At the Maine Medical Association, Executive Vice President Gordon Smith said news of Mills’ termination is “a surprise and a disappointment.” As a pediatrician, he said, “she was really committed to kids, to immunizations, to the eradication of youth smoking — all the right things.”
In addition, Smith said Mills effectively communicated the importance of public health initiatives to physicians, policy-makers and the general public, and he said those same skills are as important in the MaineCare office as they are at the Maine CDC.
“She could have done a lot [at MaineCare],” he said. But given Mills’ professional ideals and energy, he said, “I’m sure she’ll find another place to make her contributions.”
Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly identified Mills as the MaineCare director. She was the the medical director of MaineCare.