AUGUSTA — Gov. Paul LePage’s choice for commissioner of the Department of Health and Human Services faced direct questioning from Democrats about her qualifications Tuesday, but ultimately was supported by the legislative committee considering her nomination.

Mary Mayhew, 46, of South China, who now is a top health policy adviser to LePage, was endorsed in a 10-3 vote by the Heath and Human Services Committee. All of the Republicans and two Democrats on the committee supported her nomination, and three Democrats opposed it.

Previously, Mayhew served as vice president of the Maine Hospital Association, where she spent much of her time lobbying lawmakers on behalf of her group. She also was responsible for coordinating the work of a council of 20 hospital administrators to develop health care policy and finance priorities, said Mike Hersey, LePage’s director of boards and commissions, who presented Mayhew to the committee.

“My vision for the department is one that focuses on the needs of most vulnerable individuals and families, while at the same time being accountable to the Maine taxpayers for the effective use of those dollars,” said Mayhew, a registered Democrat. “And while there is always a great focus on money, which is clearly important, all decisions need to be made with most vulnerable citizens in mind – it is why the department exists, at the end of the day.”

State Rep. Mark Eves, D-North Berwick, the top House Democrat on the committee, asked Mayhew specifically about a widely publicized memo written in December by LePage spokesman Dan Demeritt.

The e-mail called for maximizing publicity for Republicans as they make good on their campaign promise to continue paying back hospitals owed Medicaid payments. Demeritt, who at the time was on LePage’s transition team, also wrote, “Once we take office, Paul will put 11,000 bureaucrats to work getting Republicans re-elected.”

“The perception is that spending priorities are based upon political favors,” Eves said.

He asked how Mayhew felt about the e-mail, given that she would be leading Maine’s largest department.

“Let me just say, that memo should never have been sent,” Mayhew said. “And that certainly is not reflective of this administration or my position, and I hear you.”

Mayhew also was questioned about her ties to the state’s hospitals and her lack of experience in the field of human services and managing a large agency. The commissioner of Health and Human Services supervises a two-year budget of more than $3 billion and about 3,500 employees.

“I’d be the first to acknowledge that I don’t have that background,” Mayhew said. “I would not want to suggest, however, that I am not committed to learning and making myself available to hearing from individuals and organizations and learning more about these issue areas.”

Representatives from various health care agencies and providers testified in support of Mayhew’s appointment. They included the Maine Health Care Association, Maine Association of Mental Health Services and the Maine Medical Association. No one testified against her nomination.

“From reimbursement to regulation, to quality improvement and customer satisfaction, she has a knowledge base and experience in health care to see this process through while being a fiscal steward for taxpayers’ dollars,” said Rick Erb, president and CEO of the Maine Health Care Association. He also praised her for possessing a “strong operational background.”

Glenn Cummings, executive director of Good Will-Hinckley and a former speaker of the Maine House of Representatives, said Mayhew is fair, honest and hard-working.

“She’s good-natured and even-keeled even under pressure. I think she has certainly the ability and the temperament to excel at the job,” said Cummings, a Democrat.

Mayhew, who holds a bachelor’s degree in political science from the University of Arkansas, was a partner in an Augusta-based lobbying firm before her job with the Maine Hospital Association. Her salary as commissioner would be $97,323 to $134,139 a year, the highest range for Maine commissioners.

Mayhew said she has spoken with the governor about performing a “top-down” audit of DHHS, and said she was committed to reforming parts of Maine’s welfare system.

“We all need to work together to reform what isn’t working and preserve and enhance what is successful,” she said. “Even though I’m sure this has been the commitment of many in the social services area for years, I have to go into this believing that there’s opportunity to do more and better with less.”

Mayhew still needs confirmation by the Senate, which will schedule a vote soon on her nomination.

 

MaineToday Media State House Writer Rebekah Metzler can be contacted at 620-7016 or at: [email protected]