Governor Nominates Budget Expert As New "Superagency" Commissioner
Governor Baldacci has chosen John "Jack" Nicholas to be the Commissioner of the state agency to be created by the merger of the Department of Human Services and the Department of Behavioral & Developmental Services.
Nicholas, who was the State Budget Officer from 1992-2002, was praised by the Governor for his financial expertise, solid moral character, and team approach. Criticism over the nomination has arisen from several legislators, including Senator Michael Brennan, Chair of the Health and Human Services Committee. Brennan commented that Nicholas lacked knowledge of DHS programs, mental health, health care, and managing organizational change. Nicholas's nomination will be heard by Brennanís committee and must be approved before it goes to the Senator floor for final passage. Nicholas has been Acting Commissioner of DHS for the past few months, a position he took after retiring from the State and spending a year as the Chief Financial Officer of Catholic Charities of Maine.
The Governor also announced that the legislation to merge the two agencies has been drafted and should be printed within the next few days. MMA President Maroulla Gleaton, M.D. sent a letter to the Governor this week expressing concern over the proposed organizational chart which puts the Bureau of Health two bureaucratic levels beneath the Commissioner. The letter notes that the Director of the Bureau of Health needs direct and immediate access to the Commissioner in order to respond immediately in the event of a public health crisis. See below for the full text of the letter.
In touting the merger, the Governor has claimed that it will produce a savings of millions of dollars and, indeed, six million in savings has already been booked in the current budget. However, the legislation is controversial and while the Legislature is looking for sources of savings under every rock, this bill is expected to get a thorough vetting.
February 26, 2004
The Honorable John Elias Baldacci
1 State House Station
Augusta, Maine 04330
Dear Governor Baldacci,
As President of the Maine Medical Association, I congratulate you on your effort to merge the Department of Human Services and the Department of Behavioral and Developmental Services to achieve the primary objective of improved service, increased efficiency and improved relations. However, upon reading the report of the Commission issued last month, I was dismayed that the Director of the Bureau of Health would not report directly to the new Commissioner.
The Director of the Bureau of Health needs direct and immediate access to the Commissioner in order to respond immediately in the event of a public health crisis. While these crises could include natural disasters such as floods and storms or a localized food-borne illness or poisoning (such as the arsenic event in New Sweden), they also include emerging biological events such as SARS and West Nile virus, not to mention the increasing potential for an event caused by anthrax, small pox and other bioterrorism. Now is not the time to be de-emphasizing our public health efforts.
The success of Dirigo Health also rides on two critical functions carried out by the Bureau of Health, prevention and health promotion. The continued success of the Bureau in smoking cessation, nutrition, maternal and child health, and dental care, to name a few, will go a long way to decreasing health costs overall, another critical element in Dirigo Health. Our collective goal is a more aware and engaged populace, something only achievable with high-profile support from the Administration.
The Maine Medical Association believes that it would be poor public policy to remove the Director of the Bureau of Health from directly reporting to the Commissioner. The critical nature of the functions performed by this position demands a department-level response. Also, this position needs to attract high quality health officers, which would be jeopardized under the suggested organizational chart. We
need to elevate public health issues, not bury them. If public health issues get buried deep within a bureaucracy, the public will not respond at the appropriate level necessary and the Legislature will increasingly lose sight of the importance of these issues in this age of term limits.
We ask you to create a new department structure which allows for real support of the programs of the Bureau of Health. The Bureau performs a crucial function in state government, one that has a profound effect on all Maine citizens and one that is likely to become even more important in the future.
Thank you for your time and consideration.
Maroulla Gleaton, MD
cc: Members of the Joint Standing Committee on Health and Human Services
Jane Lincoln, Office of the Governor
Kathryn Monahan Ainsworth, Office of the Governor