Rival Candidates Press Criticism On HHS; Raimondo Touts Record On Economy

Jun 6, 2018

Fung (right) criticizes Raimondo's hires for Health and Human Services. The governor's campaign says she's improved Rhode Island's economy.
Credit Ian Donnis / RIPR

Rival candidates for governor continued pressing attacks against Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo Wednesday amid fallout from a potentially costly legal case, while Raimondo's campaign pointed to economic improvements in the state during her time in office.

Republican Cranston Mayor Allan Fung used a news release to highlight other employees in the Executive Office of Health and Human Services during Raimondo's tenure. He pointed to Jamia McDonald (who came to work for the state during Republian Don Carcieri's time as governor), and how Raimondo brought her in to run the state Department of Children, Youth and Families, one of four agencies that make up HHS, despite not having a required degree. Fung also cited Melba Depena-Affigne, who was selected by Raimondo to run the state Department of Human Services, another HHS agency, and help implement the troubled UHIP IT system, after working on Latino outreach during Raimondo's 2014 campaign for governor.

"Raimondo's extensive record of hiring completely unqualified friends for very important positions demonstrates her willingness to sell out the safety of Rhode Islanders. Rhode Islanders have had enough of this insanity," Fung said.

Emily Samsel, a spokeswoman for Raimondo's Democratic re-election campaign, accused Fung of making what she called a frivolous political attack.

"Mayor Fung continues to root against Rhode Island and ignore the progress we are making under Governor Raimondo's leadership," Samsel said. "Here's the big picture: Because of Governor Raimondo’s leadership, Rhode Islanders are better off today than they’ve been in decades. Our people are back to work in record numbers, we are quickly moving to clean, renewable energy, we are making major investments in our children’s education, our workers’ training and our roads and bridges."

Rival candidates jumped on Raimondo after revelations earlier this week that Gregory Hazian, a lawyer for Health and Human Services, missed a deadline for filing a timely appeal of a court decision against the state. As a result, the state may have to pay a group of nursing homes $24 million in retroactive Medicaid pay. Hazian has not responded to a message seeking comment.

Hazian, who was removed from a Rhode Island Supreme Court list of lawyers in January, quit his state job earlier thsi week as officials were moving to fire him. His supervisor, Deborah George, has been plaed on leave. Health and Human Services Secretary Eric Beane said earlier this week that Hazian and George did not share information about a looming court deadline last month in the nursing home case.

Other rival candidates for governor continued to speak out.

Republican Patricia Morgan renewed her call for an independent investigation of the situation involving HHS.

“If adopted by the General Assembly, my resolution would empower an independent investigation of the issues surrounding the botched appeal of this sizable award in the nursing home suit and the lawyer’s lack of a valid license," Morgan said. "It would explore any conflicts of interest or political influences that may have impacted the lawyer’s inaction. Additionally, it would seek to understand the lack of oversight and supervision by senior management.”

Fung and state Republican Chairman Brandon Bell have called for eliminating the Executive Office of Health and Human Services, which was created during Carcieri's administration.

Republican Giovanni Feroce faulted Raimondo for backing an ongoing cut to in rates paid by the state to nursing homes.

"Governor Raimondo has built her budgets by hurting our elderly and most needy by refusing to pay money owed to nursing homes to fund her culture of 'free this and free that,' pandering for votes and publicizing one-off corporate tax deals that are resulting in subsidized business models taking roots in our state," he said. "She must be removed and high-level management needs to take over."

In related news, Michael DiBiase, director of the state Department of Administration, issued a memo addressing the issue of state workers who are supposed to have particular credentials. He said that when people are hired by the state, the Division of Human Resources works with the appointing agency to confirm that the employee holds the necessary licenses and/or certifications.

"Recent instances have come to light in which employees have failed to maintain licenses required as a condition of their position," DiBiase wrote. "By way of reminder, please be advised that it is the responsibility of the individual employee to maintain such required licenses or certifications in good standing during the term of employment. Any failure to maintain a license or certification required for employment shall be grounds for discipline, including termination. Moreover, any employee who performs licensed work without the required license may be subject to other penalties or consequences."