Federal report of ignored abuse reveals true Mayhew record

Between 2013 and 2015, 133 people with developmental disabilities died under state care.

Mary Mayhew was responsible for the care of these people as commissioner of the Maine Department of Health and Human Services.

But Mayhew’s DHHS failed to investigate any of these deaths, according to a federal investigation outlined in a report released last week.

One hundred and thirty-three people.

Mayhew should be asked about each and every one of these people, by name.

The report also detailed that Mayhew’s DHHS received 296 reports of suspected sexual abuse or sexual exploitation of developmentally disabled people, but only investigated five of them.

There are families and loved ones who never got answers after these tragedies. And in some cases, there may be abusers that have not been held accountable.

Mayhew, as she begins her run for governor, should be required to explain why.

Mary Mayhew, former commissioner of the Maine Department of Health and Human Services. Troy Bennett | BDN

We’re not talking about general government incompetence here, such as Mayhew’s repeated management errors that cost the state tens of millions of dollars. We’re not even talking about ethical lapses, like Mayhew’s crony no-bid contract for a million-dollar “report” that turned out to be plagiarized.

We’re talking about actual human lives.

In case you’re one of those people out there who thinks it doesn’t matter who we elect to office, you need to re-read this story. This is the real human toll of bad government.

Paul LePage, by his own admission, put Mayhew in charge of the state’s largest department because he couldn’t find anyone else to do it. At the press conference announcing her appointment, LePage quipped that, in his pursuit of a DHHS commissioner, he was “rejected more by women in the last two weeks than in four years of high school and six years of college.”

Mayhew had no prior executive experience before taking the helm of a $3.4 billion department. DHHS has over 3,400 employees, and impacts the lives of hundreds of thousands of Mainers.

Mayhew was a lobbyist. And before that she managed a failed democratic political campaign to unseat Olympia Snowe in the House of Representatives.

Even for LePage, this was a bad appointment.

Mayhew resigned abruptly this May, in the middle of budget deliberations that were critical to the management of her department. Most attributed her resignation to her imminent gubernatorial run, but that didn’t explain why she left during such an important time.

Now we know.

Mayhew knew this report was coming; the federal investigators were speaking with her staff. And in the final weeks of her tenure, she was telling people behind the scenes that the report was going to be very bad.

Mayhew likely resigned in May to put distance between herself and this shocking display of mismanagement. She didn’t want to be the one on the hot seat when this report came out.

But her backdoor exit shouldn’t relieve her of responsibility for this mess. Mayhew was in charge of DHHS when these abuses occurred, and Mayhew should be held accountable.

Between now and the primary election in June, Mayhew and her team will attempt to spin Republican voters on the notion that she pulled off an amazing reformation of DHHS, saving taxpayers millions of dollars and miraculously converting a generation of welfare cheats into productive citizens.

That story is a lie.

The real story of Mayhew’s tenure at the helm of Maine’s largest bureaucracy lies in the pages of this report. It lies within the plagiarized pages of the million-dollar Alexander Report she awarded with no competitive bid. It lies in the millions of dollars of fines Maine has been forced to pay for misspending federal funds. And it lies in the tragic statistics of a runaway opioid epidemic that Mayhew and her team have exacerbated through their relentless effort to defund critical programs.

Mayhew is a crass opportunist, and she did all she could to use her role at DHHS to lay the foundation for a gubernatorial run. Her focus was not on taking care of Maine’s least fortunate, or stabilizing Maine’s healthcare system, or solving the drug problem. Her focus was on taking a meat axe to Maine’s social welfare system to ingratiate herself to the hardcore LePage base, overcome her Democratic background, and establish right-wing bonafides to survive a primary election.

But it hasn’t worked, and it won’t. Because Mayhew’s legacy as DHHS commissioner will be less about kicking layabouts off welfare and more about a record of executive failure that reached its apogee last week with a report of 133 deaths and 291 cases of alleged sexual abuse that Mayhew and her team ignored.


Lance Dutson

About Lance Dutson

Lance Dutson, a principal of Red Hill Strategies, is a Republican communications consultant. He has served on the campaign teams of U.S. Sens. Susan Collins and Kelly Ayotte, as well as the Maine Republican Party.