Worker shortage shows why Mary Mayhew shouldn’t be governor

So I went on Maine Public radio’s website this morning to do research for a different post, and two headlines caught my eye. The first headline at the top of the page read:

Former Maine DHHS Chief Mary Mayhew Jumps into Gubernatorial Race, Maine Public

Immediately to the right was a thumbnail headline that read:

’It’s grave. We need a lot of people’ — Maine Employers Desperate For Workers, Maine Public

It was the word grave that struck me. As a connoisseur of dark humor, the dark irony was not wasted on me. I thought, I know where Maine could find a whole bunch of Maine workers to ease the employment crunch.

In graves in cemeteries across our state.

Let’s see … 176 in 2013 plus 208 in 2014 and 272 in 2015, plus 376 in 2016 … that equals 1032 overdose deaths in Maine in four years. That’s 1032 people, mostly working age, missing from Maine’s workforce.

A number like 1032 makes the number 17 — the number of incarcerated people Governor LePage released from their sentences early to alleviate the worker shortage — look silly. Even if LePage had commuted 17 a year for those same four years, the number would be 68, which against the number 1032 still looks silly.

So what’s the link between those deaths, our lack of workers and Maine DHHS under LePage and Mayhew? It’s a big one:  they were charged with tending to our healthcare system during an epidemic and the data suggests they didn’t do that great a job.

As those aforementioned overdose deaths rates where steadily rising, the LePage administration and Mayhew were slashing MaineCare access instead of expanding it under the Affordable Care Act. They were all about reducing reimbursement rates for treatment programs.

Even though it is commonly held that this addiction epidemic is linked to prescription drugs made too easily available to potential addicts who were receiving health care, the people in charge of our health care system felt little responsibility about fixing it.

Instead of hearing about the administration’s responsibility to the mentally ill and addicted — something Republican John Kasich has no problem acknowledging — Mainers heard about treatment facilities closing due to lack of funding.  (Click here or here for a couple examples.)

Even Republican Senator Susan Collins is beginning to acknowledge the necessity of increased MaineCare access.

And it’s not just the 1032 deaths hindering Maine’s workforce development. Who knows how many potential workers are sitting in jail in need of addiction treatment to be prepared to participate in the workforce? Had the administration made a bigger push for jail treatment programs, that 17 might have been closer to 100.

Or who knows how many incarcerated addicts could have avoided the outcome of jail altogether had there been more available treatment options? Or how many more potential workers are struggling to find gainful employment with a felony drug conviction on their record?

We’ll never know. What we do know is our economic situation regarding workforce readiness is grave, in part because of an overabundance of graves and overflowing jail cells.

What the LePage administration and Mayhew’s stewardship has taught us is that cost-saving measures like increased restrictions to health care access/funds may look good at first glance, but in reality they are costly.

Families, children, community members, employers — we’re all paying and paying and paying.

Endnote to Senator Collins:  I’m torn between beseeching you to stay in Washington to keep President Trump in check or beseeching you to run for governor to bring a quick and timely end to Mayhew’s candidacy. I think it’s almost a given that you’d clinch the Republican gubernatorial nomination. After listening to a couple hours of Mayhew’s testimony at a legislative hearing earlier this year, I’m dreading months of her having access to an even bigger soap box.

Talk about a rock and a hard place …

Patricia Callahan

About Patricia Callahan

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