CAPE ELIZABETH — Dr. Sheila Pinette gave birth to one child while in medical school and to another while in residency.

On May 1, she will find herself in another challenging position when she goes from being a self-employed primary care physician in this small town to running the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention. Pinette, 52, will be the director of an agency that has 420 employees, a $132 million annual budget and a mission to prevent and respond to diseases and other health threats to Mainers.

Also, while Pinette and the LePage administration say her clinical experience and care for patients qualify her for the position, some in Maine’s public health community are less confident.

“We are concerned that she’s not particularly familiar with public health in Maine,” said Julie Sullivan, Portland public health director. “We’re hopeful things go well.”

Pinette, who hadn’t planned on government service until the LePage administration asked, said she’s looking forward to the challenge and even plans to keep her hand in as a clinician, working periodically with diabetic pregnant women in Portland.

“I’m a really honest person, and I work hard,” she said.


Pinette was born into a military family in Florida. After her father died, she and her five siblings were raised in New Hampshire by her hardworking, independent, conservative mother, she said.

Pinette’s medical career began as a physician assistant working in a neonatal intensive care unit in Hartford, Conn., in the 1980s.

She moved to Cape Elizabeth in 1989 after marrying Dr. Michael Pinette, the director of maternal-fetal medicine at Maine Medical Center in Portland. Sheila Pinette developed the outreach program and cared for high-risk pregnant women there.

Pinette received a doctor of osteopathic medicine degree from the University of New England in 2000. She completed her internal medicine residency at Maine Medical Center in 2003.

Pinette is one of a declining number of physicians who still run their own primary care practices. Internal Medicine on the Cape LLC has a base of about 1,000 patients, but she will close its doors this month when she starts her new job.

Pinette said she didn’t apply for the post but was nominated by the LePage transition team soon after the election.


LePage’s transition advisers included Jennifer Duddy, a friend of Pinette who worked for U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, and is now a health adviser to LePage. Pinette also has worked with Tarren Bragdon, another LePage transition adviser and director of the Maine Heritage Policy Center, a conservative think tank.

Pinette is down-to-earth and energetic. Along with her practice, she has five children, ranging from 8 years old to college-age.

Maine’s CDC director earns from $133,000 to $183,000, although Pinette’s salary had not been finalized, officials said.

Pinette will commute to Augusta most days but plans to work in Portland at times. She also plans to do clinical work with diabetic pregnant women at Maine Medical Center one day a week when the Legislature is not in session.

“As a physician, I think it adds credibility to the position,” she said.

Pinette proved her juggling ability as a medical school mother, but she still may find it all difficult to balance. The former CDC director, Dr. Dora Anne Mills, was known for working long days and weekends.


“I would get emails from her at two in the morning. That was standard,” said Dr. Lani Graham, who also worked long hours when she held the job before Mills, from 1990 to 1996. Graham is now co-chairwoman of the of the Maine Medical Association’s public health committee.

Both Graham and Mills had master’s degrees in public health when they stepped into the position, as well as experience in the public health field.

“Even then, it was hard,” Graham said. Unlike caring for one patient at a time, the CDC job is about population health and state policy, she said. “It’s a steep learning curve.”

Mills said she had a friendly conversation with Pinette about the post and wishes her well.

Mills stepped down from the job in December after nearly 15 years and was replaced by the current acting director, Dr. Stephen Sears.

Sears, who expects to return to his job as state epidemiologist in May, also has a master’s degree in public health and is an infectious-disease specialist and former hospital administrator. Some in the public health community saw Sears as a qualified successor to Mills.


Mary Mayhew, commissioner of the Department of Health and Human Services, said in an email that she hired Pinette because of her medical experience and commitment.

“In her many years as a health care provider, Dr. Pinette has encountered a wide variety of health issues; and many of them, like diabetes, heart disease and obesity, for example, are at the top of the list when it comes to Maine’s public health concerns,” Mayhew said. “This experience, along with her commitment to improve the overall health of Maine people, made her a logical choice for this job.”

Pinette freely admits she doesn’t have experience in public health management, but she said she has dealt with the issues on the front lines as a clinician. She also communicates well and respects people, she said, and will have an experienced leadership team to help run the organization.

Pinette said she hopes to take on leading challenges such as obesity and diabetes and increase health education for young people. “Our goal is to do a lot more preventive medicine,” she said.

Pinette may not be as high-profile as Mills, who became a recognizable spokesperson for public health in Maine.

Pinette intends to provide medical advice on public health issues to political appointees in the administration, including Mayhew and Duddy, and they will decide policy positions and testify before legislative committees, she said.


“They want me to focus solely as a medical adviser,” she said. “I hope that I can remain neutral. … I’m not a political person.”

Pinette’s political views, nevertheless, are a concern to some in the public health community.

Pinette has spoken against the federal Affordable Care Act and traveled to Washington, D.C., to speak against what she calls “Obamacare” as part of a Maine Heritage Policy Center panel. While Gov. Paul LePage supports efforts to overturn the law, it will be up to the administration’s CDC director to implement portions of the act.

Pinette, who is active in her local Catholic church, also has described herself as “pro-life” in her personal beliefs, again aligning her with LePage. However, Pinette said, as a physician she does not impose her anti-abortion views on patients and will not do so as CDC director.

The CDC is not involved directly in abortion services but does promote access to family planning services, sexuality education and sexually transmitted disease prevention. Pinette said she supports those things and credited family planning efforts for Maine’s relatively low abortion rate. “I do it (family planning) all the time in my practice,” she said.

The pro-life statements, like Pinette’s experience, have still raised some antennas.


“I’m hopeful that won’t affect women’s health in the state,” said Sullivan, Portland’s public health director.

Tina Pettingill, executive director of the Maine Public Health Association, said public health providers are genuinely curious about Pinette and her plans.

“This is an extremely important and influential position,” she said. “What matters to me is that they are able to look at the science and the data and use that effectively.”

Deborah Deatrick, vice president of community health at MaineHealth, said she is curious about how the CDC director will deal with high-profile issues such as epidemics. “Anybody who comes into this job really does need to understand emergency preparedness,” she said.

Also, Deatrick said, “Anyone who comes into this position is probably going to be scrutinized.”


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or login first for digital access. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.