Gov. Phil Scott has appointed Mike Smith, a longtime Republican administrator, to be his new secretary of the Agency of Human Services, a sprawling wing of state government that includes health care, prisons, child and family welfare, and services to disabled and aging populations.
Smith is currently CEO of the Vermont Information Technology Leaders (VITL), a private company that operates a patient records system and contracts with the state. He was previously the secretary of administration and AHS under former Gov. Jim Douglas, and for a few years hosted a news talk radio show on WDEV.
“As was the case with his predecessor, Al Gobeille, Mike has a wide and varied background and has been a dynamic and effective leader,” Scott said in a statement announcing the appointment.
Gobeille ran popular restaurants in Burlington before joining Vermont’s health care oversight board and then jumping to the top AHS position when Scott became governor. Gobeille quickly entered the private sector after his resignation, taking a leadership position in the UVM Health Network.
Martha Maksym, Gobeille’s deputy, has been the acting secretary since Gobeille stepped down in June.
Smith will start his new job on Oct. 28, and Maksym will return to her deputy post.
“I want to thank Gov. Scott for this opportunity,” Smith said in a statement released by the governor’s office. “I know from experience the significance and complexity of this job as well as the influence it has on achieving the governor’s goals of growing the economy, making the state more affordable and protecting the most vulnerable.”
Gobeille was a central figure in getting the state’s all-payer health care system up and running, but so far it has not delivered the savings or participation that policymakers hoped for. Hospital budgets are expected to increase by about 6% in 2020, and state regulators approved health insurance rate increases of more than 10% for the coming year.
Sen. President Pro Tem Tim Ashe, D/P Chittenden, said in a statement that he hoped Smith would help lawmakers work to reform the criminal justice system, use the Medicaid program to “support primary care, mental health, and prevention while reducing hospitalizations,” and address “the significant number of children in DCF custody.”
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“I know Mike doesn’t shy away from challenges — a good thing because in his new role there’s no shortage of them,” Ashe wrote in a statement.
Kevin Mullin, chair of the Green Mountain Care Board, said Smith a “proven commodity” who has excelled in all of his leadership roles, including his most recent at VITL. Mullin said Smith is well-positioned to take on the AHS secretary role, which he described as “the toughest job in state government.”
“When you have everything from the DCF [Department for Children and Families] to corrections, it’s a job that needs somebody that can react quickly and basically build consensus towards solving problems and that’s what he brings to the table,” he said.
Under Smith’s watch, VITL, which has been plagued by operating debts and inefficiency, has downsized operations and increased the number of patient records in the system.
Restoring faith in beleaguered institutions is one of Smith’s specialties. In a profile published by the alternative weekly Seven Days, Smith was described as the “interim fixer in chief.” Over the years, he has stepped in to restructure organizations that have hit rough patches. Smith picked up the pieces at FairPoint Communications when the telephone company, now owned by Consolidated Communications, came under state scrutiny for poor customer service and major outages.
Smith also helped the Burlington College board grapple with the school’s debts and eventual closing.
Editor’s note: VTDigger changed previous headlines and the lead on this story, which referred to Mike Smith as an “operator” and then “operative.” Neither appropriately conveyed his career in public service.
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