PORTLAND — With a background in government and nonprofits, the city’s new director of health and human services expects her experience will be a critical tool in running the department.
“All the work I’ve done gives me insight into how government works and connections and contacts that will be helpful,” Dawn Stiles said Monday.
Stiles began work Dec. 1, replacing Doug Gardner, who resigned June 30 to take a private-sector job in Lewiston. She takes over a department with a budget of at least $32.2 million for social services, public health, and the Barron Center assisted living facility – or nearly a fifth of the entire municipal spending outlay of $176 million.
Stiles is a former president and chief operating officer of Spurwink Services, a nonprofit providing mental health and education services for children and families. She was most recently executive director of the Santa Anna Island Community Center in Florida.
She said her work there provided a glimpse of what she will be working with in Portland: providing services for the elderly, and before- and after-school services and care for the children of hospitality-industry workers.
“It was interesting because the island had sort of an ‘invisible poor,'” Stiles said.
She arrives at a challenging time, with Portland facing the loss of state reimbursement for general assistance vouchers given to undocumented immigrants, which could amount to at least $3.6 million.
In a month, the Legislature and Gov. Paul LePage begin work on a new biennial budget to cover fiscal years 2016 and 2017. The last budget reduced social service spending at the state level, while trimming eligibility standards. It threatened municipalities with the loss of revenue sharing derived from income and sales taxes received in Augusta.
Some of the revenue sharing was restored by boosting other taxes, but those increases are set to expire.
Stiles said she will let Mayor Michael Brennan and legislators advocate for the city. But her work on the LePage transition team after the 2010 election may provide some useful connections, she said.
“Public health is new to me,” Stiles admitted, “so this week I have been meeting division directors and learning what they do.”
But with her expertise in Medicaid and Medicare procedures and regulations, she said she expects to be able to ensure the city gets the funding it is eligible for, but she is also ready to explore other funding methods for the department.
She said she does not have any preconceived ideas for operations.
“I never like to come in with my own goals or priorities,” she said. “I like to get to know the issues that are here and what the community wants or needs. I learn better and faster by seeing how things work.”
Stiles said the longevity of department heads will also be critical for her.
“(It is) uplifting in terms of people being in jobs that long without becoming jaded,” she said.
PORTLAND — A lawsuit aimed a blocking a state Department of Health and Human Services policy prohibiting reimbursements to municipalities that provide aid to undocumented immigrants will be heard in Maine Superior Court.
On Friday, Dec. 5, Judge John Woodcock of the U.S. District Court in Portland rejected a motion by Maine DHHS Commissioner Mary Mayhew to hear the suit filed against the state in July by the Maine Municipal Association, with the cities of Portland and Westbrook as co-plaintiffs.
The suit, originally filed in Cumberland County Superior Court in Portland, alleges the DHHS instituted the new policy in June without following state rule-making procedures, including public hearings on the proposed policy.
The state argued the new policy is in accordance with a federal law enacted in 1996 prohibiting aid to undocumented immigrants.
The policy withholds state reimbursements ranging from 50 percent to 80 percent of general assistance aid. It was followed by Gov. Paul LePage’s decree that municipalities providing the aid could lose all general assistance reimbursements, regardless of the recipients’s status.
Acting City Manager Sheila Hill-Christian has estimated the policy could cost the city as much as $3.6 million this year. The general assistance program provides vouchers for essential needs including housing, food and personal care items for individuals and families.
— David Harry