Jeanne Lambrew, who led Maine’s Health and Human Services department through the COVID-19 pandemic, is resigning her post to work with a Washington-based health care policy organization and teach at Harvard University.

Lambrew, a former high-ranking health official in the Obama and Clinton administrations, will become the director of health care reform for The Century Foundation. She will also be an adjunct professor of health policy at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. Her last day as Maine’s top health official will be May 31.

Maine Department of Health and Human Services Commissioner Jeanne Lambrew. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

Lambrew was Gov. Janet Mills’ first Cabinet selection in 2018, nominated before Mills took office in 2019. Lambrew led DHHS when it oversaw MaineCare expansion, which added 100,000 people to Maine’s Medicaid program and reduced the number of uninsured state residents during the COVID-19 pandemic. The department also oversees the Office of Child and Family Services, which has been the focus of legislative scrutiny in the wake of a series of child deaths.

Shortly after starting in 2019, Lambrew filled hundreds of vacant jobs in the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention, which had seen its workforce reduced during the LePage administration. The Maine CDC had a much more robust workforce by the time the COVID-19 pandemic began in March 2020, slightly more than a year after Lambrew became commissioner. Now, the Maine CDC workforce totals about 550 employees, some 200 more than under former Gov. Paul LePage.

“I can unequivocally say that Jeanne Lambrew is a once-in-a-generation public servant,” Mills said in a written statement. “She expanded health care to more than 100,000 people, lowered our uninsured rate, guided our best-in-the-nation pandemic response, implemented historic investments in behavioral health and other vital services, and rebuilt the department to restore faith in its core mission.”

Lambrew said in a written statement, “it has been the privilege of a lifetime to serve Gov. Mills and residents of the State of Maine. The last five-and-a-half years have been extraordinarily challenging and rewarding, with the department staff, cabinet, partners and people of Maine responding to a global pandemic, catastrophic storms and human tragedies with skill, compassion and results.”


But Lambrew also came under fire on some issues, among them the operation of the child welfare system after several high-profile deaths of children, and the quality of services for those with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

“I was not a fan of hers,” said Ray Nagel, executive director of the Independence Association, a nonprofit provider that operates group homes for adults with intellectual disabilities, among other services.

Wages for direct care workers – such as those who care for the intellectually disabled – continue to fall short of being competitive enough to keep people from leaving those jobs. There have been some reimbursement increases, Nagel said, but not enough to solve the direct care workforce shortage.

“For the next commissioner, we need a commissioner who sees problems, knows how to fix them and works with all types of providers,” Nagel said.

State Sen. Jeff Timberlake, R-Turner, who spearheaded efforts to reform the Office of Child and Family Services after the child deaths, said Lambrew was ultimately the one responsible for the agency. Todd Landry, former director of the OCFS, resigned in November following intense scrutiny of the office.

“When you’re the one at the top, the expectation is when it doesn’t run smooth, you get the blame,” Timberlake said. “It’s a chance for the governor to go out and find someone who can meet what Maine needs at this time.”


Efforts by Timberlake and other lawmakers to break off OCFS into its own separate agency – and no longer under the DHHS umbrella – ultimately came up short when a bill to do so failed to get a vote in the House.

“Now is the opportune time to break the department up,” Timberlake said.

But Steven Michaud, president of the Maine Hospital Association, said, “there were many trying times throughout the COVID-19 pandemic but the commissioner never wavered in her commitment to getting hospitals the critical support they needed.”

Ann Woloson, executive director of Consumers for Affordable Health Care, a Maine-based advocacy group that aims to improve health care in the state, said “so many Mainers have benefited from (Lambrew’s) leadership” and that thousands of “Mainers have health coverage and are accessing the health care they need as a result of policy initiatives the commissioner moved forward.”

Related Headlines

Comments are no longer available on this story