AUGUSTA – Gov. Paul LePage nominated a former hospital association lobbyist Wednesday to head the state Department of Health and Human Services.

Mary Mayhew, who just 12 days ago was appointed to LePage’s inner circle as a senior policy adviser on health care, spent 11 years as vice president of the Maine Hospital Association.

On Wednesday, LePage said he had trouble finding someone who was willing to take the DHHS job, so he turned to Mayhew.

“We have interviewed an awful lot of people from all over the country,” he said during a news conference at the State House. “I will tell you right now I have been rejected more by women in the last two weeks than in four years of high school and six years of college, and it’s all about money. We can’t pay enough.”

He went on to say that Mayhew is a valuable part of his team because of her knowledge and experience in the field of health care.

She will be well-prepared to handle Medicaid issues and the federal health reform, he said.

“She’s done a marvelous job of bringing us up to speed with some of the challenges we are facing,” he said.

Last month, LePage said he was having trouble recruiting quality commissioners because Maine’s pay scales are too low, by state law.

If confirmed by the Legislature, Mayhew will be paid $97,323 to $134,139 a year, the highest range for commissioners.

Democrats said there will be questions about whether Mayhew can address the needs of the DHHS beyond hospitals.

Senate Minority Leader Barry Hobbins, D-Saco, said he believes Mayhew can do the job but some members of his party may raise questions.

“She’s going to have to be a quick read when it comes to educating herself in social service programs,” he said. “She has the ability to do it. She’s capable.”

Mayhew, a registered Democrat, will face a confirmation hearing before the Legislature’s Health and Human Services Committee and a Senate vote.

House Minority Leader Emily Cain, D-Orono, said she has worked closely with Mayhew on hospital issues. She, too, said Mayhew will have to learn more about other aspects of the department but her experience in the State House will help her.

“That department carries the responsibility of protecting the most vulnerable in our state,” Cain said. “It’s not a business venture. It’s very important to our economic viability that that safety net is strong.”

As a candidate for governor, LePage often cited his desire to make significant changes in the state’s welfare programs. He said Wednesday that he wants to get rid of the state’s Dirigo health care program, and that he’s glad the state has joined in suing the federal government over health care reform.

The DHHS oversees bureaus that help senior citizens and people who are mentally ill or developmentally delayed, substance abuse services, and the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention.

Mayhew, 46, of South China, said she’s ready to do a complete review of operations.

“The governor and I have already discussed the need for a top-down, detailed review of the department,” she said. “We, and all of you, and the citizens of Maine, must know how tax dollars are being spent down to the penny.”

She spoke of a need to change the mission of the department.

“Welfare was never meant to be a lifestyle,” she said. “Yet that is exactly what it has become for too many families who are trapped in a failing system.”

LePage said he will be heavily involved in the DHHS, particularly the welfare and mental health programs.

Costs for human services and education make up 80 percent of the state budget.

LePage said his administration has received more than 1,000 complaints about the DHHS.

“I’m going over there and I’m going to see what’s going on and why people aren’t getting the customer service they deserve in the state of Maine,” he said.

“My goal is to be more customer-friendly, to provide good customer service to those in need,” he said. “We are not looking to throw anybody to the curb. We are trying to make sure we provide service they need, with one little caveat: We are going to work very, very hard, in getting people to become self-reliant.”

MaineToday Media State House Writer Susan Cover can be contacted at 620-7015 or at:

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