Cutler says ‘heads would roll’ at DHHS if he were governor

Eliot Cutler. 2010 BDN file photo by Kevin Bennett.

Eliot Cutler. 2010 BDN file photo by Kevin Bennett.

In a lively media release, independent candidate for governor Eliot Cutler urged Republican Gov. Paul LePage to fire high-level officials at the Department of Health and Human Services, saying the department is wracked by “a culture of irresponsibility and an embarrassing epidemic of mismanagement.”

Cutler referenced several controversies around DHHS this year, including a document shredding scandal at the CDC; a failed contract for MaineCare transportation services, a federal decertification at the Riverview Psychiatric Center that triggered a $20 million reduction in funding; and a controversial $925,000 contract for an out-of-state consultant to study the state’s welfare system — the results of which have come under fire by Democrats and advocates in and out of Maine.

Cutler said LePage was blaming Democrats for “politicizing” issues at DHHS rather than dealing with those issues. He said if he were governor, mismanagement at DHHS would not be tolerated,

“I wouldn’t wait around for a legislative oversight committee; I wouldn’t try to sweep it all under the rug; and I certainly wouldn’t blame it on someone else,” Cutler wrote. “DHHS is Maine’s largest and most complex department. It’s may be a tough place to run, but it also is a department that is responsible for the health, safety and well-being of tens of thousands of Maine children and families. Maine’s most vulnerable citizens depend on DHHS services.”

Cutler did not mention DHHS Commissioner Mary Mayhew or any other official by name, but said “major leadership changes” needed to be made. Mayhew recently announced that she had fired Riverview’s chief, Mary Louise McEwen.

In response to Cutler’s comments, U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud, a former state Senate president and the Democratic candidate for governor, said it’s LePage that should be held accountable for problems at DHHS.

“If we want a state government that works and a DHHS that puts people above ideology, we need a new governor,” Michaud said. “I’m the only candidate in this race who has a proven track record of bringing people together and who has the experience to fix the problems the current governor has created. Gov. LePage is responsible for the failures at DHHS. He’s the one who should be held accountable.””

Brent Littlefield, LePage’s top campaign consultant, dismissed Cutler, saying he was simply “trying to politicize the work of DHHS.”

“Gov. LePage looked past politics when he appointed Mary Mayhew, a Democrat, to lead the Department,” Littlefield wrote. “The Department’s problems have been building for decades and that is why Gov. LePage has promoted welfare reform with strategies to bring the Department in line with national averages and federal guidelines. Rather than supporting reform, Eliot Cutler has joined Michael Michaud in seeking to expand welfare and grow the cost and complexity of this Department.”

Mario Moretto

About Mario Moretto

Mario Moretto has been a Maine journalist, in print and online publications, since 2009. He joined the Bangor Daily News in 2012, first as a general assignment reporter in his native Hancock County and, now, in the State House.