Gov. Janet Mills has appointed a longtime deputy to temporarily replace outgoing Department of Health and Human Services Commissioner Jeanne Lambrew.

Sara Gagné-Holmes, who has been Lambrew’s deputy commissioner for the last five years, will serve as acting commissioner of the state’s largest department beginning June 1.

Sara Gagne-Holmes, Maine Department of Health and Human Services

“Deputy Commissioner Gagné-Holmes brings a wealth of experience and knowledge, as well as the respect of her colleagues, to the position of acting commissioner,” Mills said in a prepared statement Friday. “Having served as deputy commissioner for more than five years, she deeply understands the operations of the department and will ensure that it remains in capable hands as I continue to consider candidates to succeed Commissioner Lambrew and carry forward the important work of advancing the health and welfare of Maine people.”

A Sanford native and graduate of Bowdoin College and the University of Maine School of Law, Gagné-Holmes has a long history in health care, first as an attorney and later in the public sector. She was a health policy and legal adviser to former Gov. John Baldacci before transitioning to the nonprofit advocacy world. She had been deputy commissioner of DHHS since March 2019.

“I’m honored to step into the Acting Commissioner role to advance the department’s mission of ensuring health, safety, resilience, and opportunity for Maine people,” she said in a prepared statement. “I look forward to the opportunity to build on Commissioner Lambrew’s transformative leadership of the Department and to advancing our vital work during this transition.”

Lambrew announced this month that she was stepping down as commissioner to take a teaching position at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and a job as director of health care reform for The Century Foundation, a Washington, D.C.-based organization. Lambrew had been in Mills’ Cabinet since the beginning of her first term and oversaw the state’s pandemic response.

According to a news release from Mills’ office, the governor is still considering permanent candidates to lead DHHS. She will name a nominee in the coming weeks, and that person will then be subject to hearings before the Legislature’s Health and Human Services Committee as well as confirmation by the state Senate.

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