Committee approves state's next DHHS commissioner

A new start for DHHS and lawmakers?

*UPDATE* 10/20 5:45 p.m. – Saying they hope for a "fresh start" in the relationship between the Legislature and the Department of Health and Human Services, lawmakers on the HHS committee have voted in favor of Ricker Hamilton to be Maine's next commissioner of DHHS. The vote at Friday's hearing was 10-1, with two members absent.

Hamilton is career employee if the agency, which is the largest in state government. He still needs to be confirmed by the Senate.

Hamilton currently is acting commissioner, a position he assumed in June following the resignation of former commissioner Mary Mayhew. She had a contentious relationship with the Legislature, but Hamilton pledged "full and open communication" with lawmakers.

AUGUSTA, Maine (NEWS CENTER) -- The man nominated to run the largest agency in state government is promising to have full and open communications with the Legislature.

Ricker Hamilton was chosen by Gov. Paul LePage to be commissioner of the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS). Hamilton is a career employee of DHHS, and has been Acting Commissioner since June.

There has been ongoing friction between the Legislature and DHHS  for the past seven years, much of it focused around former commissioner Mary Mayhew. She clashed often with Democratic lawmakers over a range of issues, including the Riverview Psychiatric Center and the proposed mental health "step down" facility. Mayhew left the job in June to run for Governor.

During his confirmation hearing Friday morning, members of the Health and Human Services Committee questioned Hamilton about those and other concerns. Hamilton promised the lawmakers to provide "full and open communication," even suggesting regular meetings to discuss ongoing concerns.

On two of the current key issues -- Riverview and the recent Office of Inspector General (OIG) report -- he said significant progress is being made. Hamilton said federal officials have been asked to conduct a new inspection of Riverview, and expressed confidence the hospital can regain federal certification.

Regarding the OIG investigation, which found that DHHS had failed to follow federal regulations for oversight of adults with mental disabilities, Hamilton promised to "hold ourselves accountable to what's in the report," and said they have already made improvements in oversight of those cases.

The committee will eventually vote on the nomination, followed by another vote in the Senate to make a decision on the nomination official.

© 2017 WCSH-TV


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