Congratulations on your balanced DHHS budget, Commissioner Mayhew

Dear Mary Mayhew:

I’m still unpacking everything I took in the other day listening to your testimony regarding the DHHS portion of the governor’s budget proposal. I wanted to congratulate you about balancing the budget at DHHS — something you referred to a couple times.

Please pass on my congratulations to your boss, too. He’s pretty excited about Maine’s cash pool. 

The only problem is, there’s more to being in charge of the best interests of the citizens of a state than just cash pools and balanced books in one department.

Maine’s children, for example, aren’t doing so well under this administration. A recent report cites “the sharp decline in the well-being of children in Maine” in recent years, including increased childhood poverty. Professionals attribute this administration’s policies to increased food insecurity and use of food banks.

There’s all sorts of funding problems related to our jail system, an overburdened component in our addiction epidemic.  Further, I don’t think 378 overdose deaths last year are indicative of a thriving health care delivery system, nor are 378 autopsies cheap. Does the increased spending for the chief examiner’s office in the supplemental budget this year come out of DHHS funds?

Did you know that an expert has dubbed overdose deaths “deaths of despair?” I was looking at a graph showing the rates of overdose deaths and noticed a steady and drastic increase in this particular death of despair since you and your boss have been in charge of Mainers’ health and well-being.

Nice work.

Sure, you’re making a show of hustling to find funds for treatment now. With that kind of death count, though — like 100+ more than last year — I’m thinking about the farmer trying to shut the barn doors after the cows have gotten out.

But better late than never, I guess.

Then there’s Maine’s hospitals, one third of which are operating at a loss with increasing uncompensated care costs. That collective doesn’t seem too keen on the governor’s budget proposal. I was surprised how quickly you threw hospitals under the bus, saying you couldn’t be accountable for the business practices of private entities.

That’s an interesting thing to hear from a former hospital lobbyist. Funnier still to hear from someone who champions privatizing health and social service programs. What is it about ideologues trying to have it both ways?

I was also surprised that when you were asked what the plan would be should hospitals fail under the proposed cuts, you said you would give it some thought. Really? Such a “what if” never warranted a little brainstorming when you all were coming up with this stuff?

But I was most surprised that when Rep. Drew Gattine asked what the current federal reimbursement rate for the MaineCare program was, you didn’t have that information readily available. Again, really? Being able to cite the federal reimbursement rate that brings more that $1.5 billion into our state annually to support our health care system didn’t seem important when preparing to testify about hospital reimbursement?

Which brings me back to something you said when we met after your testimony — you asked me not to put words in your mouth when I was trying to figure out how you disagreed with the possible outcome in my hypothetical scenario. 

I said I wouldn’t, and I haven’t. However, it wouldn’t be a bad idea to have the folks helping you choose your words step up their game.

Like, someone should have told you it’s a bad idea to try to pull off a Reagan stunt in a digital age. And I would have thought someone would have had that reimbursement rate handy in your notes and maybe some bullet points to pivot away from the whole failing hospital scenario, too.

Listening as a layperson, those errors sounded like you were unprepared and unconcerned, even though I am sure that was not your intent.

Please forgive me if my letter of congratulations sounds half-hearted. It is — maybe even less.

Still looking forward to continuing the dialogue and best wishes,


Patricia Callahan

About Patricia Callahan

Trish is a writer who lives in Augusta. She has worked professionally in education and social services.