It wasn’t exactly a ringing endorsement. Back in early 2011, while introducing Mary Mayhew as his new commissioner of the Maine Department of Health and Human Services, Gov. Paul LePage offered up an odd admission.

“We have interviewed an awful lot of people from all over the country,” LePage said during a news conference while Mayhew, smiling gamely, stood at his side. “I will tell you I’ve been rejected more by women in the last two weeks than in four years of high school and six years of college – and it’s all about money. We can’t pay enough.”

Almost three years later, one can’t help but wonder why Maine taxpayers are paying Mayhew at all.

Her department, by far the largest in Maine’s state government, has become a cafeteria of crises.

Her strategy, straight from the LePage playbook, is to deflect, delay and, when all else fails, blame DHHS’ many and varied blunders not on her own incompetence, but on “politics.”

Her legacy, if that’s what you want to call it, will be a social safety net that came apart at the seams – from a transportation program that leaves its needy clients stranded, to a million-dollar contract with a “consultant” who specializes in cutting services to the poor, to a proposed new regional office in South Portland that gives new meaning to the old Maine adage “you can’t get there from here.”

And now this: Last week, the Legislature’s Office of Program Evaluation and Government Accountability reported that DHHS officials “undermined the integrity and credibility” of a $4.7 million regional health program by, among other things, ordering what may be the illegal shredding of documents.

Through it all, we get an endless flurry of excuses designed to obscure the real tragedy here: Mayhew, by what she’s done and what she’s failed to do, is hurting the very people she’s charged with helping. People who, with each DHHS malfunction, lose a little bit more of their dignity every day.

On Thursday, in an apparent attempt to defend the indefensible, DHHS spokesman John Martins put out an email blast euphemistically titled “Statements on current areas of interest.”

The first focused on the much-derided $925,000, no-bid contract awarded in September to The Alexander Group, also known as Gary Alexander, also known as the guy who in his most recent job as Pennsylvania’s secretary of public welfare mismanaged that state’s Medicaid program to the tune of $7 million in increased costs.

(“I’m sitting here thinking, ‘OK, what type of background check was done on this?’ ” Pennsylvania Auditor General Eugene DePasquale told the Lewiston Sun Journal earlier this month in reference to Alexander’s sweet deal with the LePage administration. “Certainly nobody contacted the state of Pennsylvania about him.”)

But here’s the real head slapper: The first “deliverable” in Alexander’s contract with DHHS is supposed to be a “Maine Public Welfare System Blueprint” due no later than Dec. 1. It is now Dec. 15 and . . . nada.

Is Mayhew outraged? Nope.

Rather, in her statement last week, she stiff-armed mounting criticism of the contract by playing the “motivated by politics” card. And when it came to assigning blame for the delay, she pinned it on her own department’s “need to produce data in a more timely manner.”

In other words, DHHS is paying a welfare bounty hunter close to a million bucks to gin up an anti-welfare “blueprint” with data that DHHS can’t seem to come up with on time. How’s that for your tax dollars at work?

Mayhew’s second statement centered on the disaster known as Coordinated Transportation Services. That’s the Connecticut firm we taxpayers are paying $28 million to take what was a well-oiled transportation program for MaineCare recipients and, well, run it into a ditch.

By any standard of decency, the thousands of Mainers who have missed their medical appointments – including chemotherapy, dialysis and other lifesaving treatments – represent not simply a rough start for a private contractor that clearly bit off more than it could chew. Rather, whenever some poor patient is left stranded at home or at the doctor’s office, it borders on the criminal.

Yet there was Mayhew last week, actually boasting that she’s got the whole thing under control.

“Our approach to managing non-emergency transportation is the right one,” she said in her statement. “Oversimplifying this complex issue for political gain has created unnecessary noise, and we will not be distracted by it.”

Unnecessary noise? Would the commissioner feel better if all those MaineCare patients just shut their traps and laced up their L.L. Bean boots?

Then there’s CTS’ jaw-dropping request for even more money. That, Mayhew said, stems from the fact that “the number of rides needed in each region did not align with the claims data that was provided to the brokers in the Request for Proposals.”

Translation: Sorry, DHHS blew it again.

The litany goes on: It’s starting to look like the uprooting of the easily accessed DHHS regional office on Marginal Way in Portland is another debacle in the making.

Why? Well for starters, speculation abounds that the new DHHS/Department of Labor complex out by the Portland International Jetport might not be ready by the time DHHS has to vacate its Marginal Way digs come January 2015.

And even if the new building is ready on time, the hardship will only be starting for clients who now have no trouble getting to and from the Portland office on foot. (Mayhew & Co. say they might provide a special bus service – one of the few times in recent months that they’ve actually said something funny.)

Finally, there’s the emerging scandal over the shredding of documents to conceal the fact that this year’s allocations under the $4.7 million Healthy Maine Partnerships fund were about as orderly and predictable as the pig scramble at the Cumberland County Fair.

In a letter last week to Beth Ashcroft, director of the Office of Program Evaluation and Government Accountability, Mayhew once again offered up her customary “dog ate our homework” excuses: DHHS didn’t know how much money it would have and that “left the CDC (Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention) a very short time to develop a plan of action for appropriate reduction of funds.”

Yet they still found the time to order the shredding of documents that might have shone some light on exactly what was going on here?

Promised Mayhew in her letter, “Our legal team is working with the Maine State Archives office to review and update our records management policies and practices.”

(I can already hear State Archivist David Cheever: “Rule Number 1 – unplug the damn shredder!”)

What makes Mayhew’s bad-and-getting-worse performance so disheartening is that her boss – the guy who would have fired her by now if her job was to keep Maine “open for business” – instead serves as her enabler in chief.

Many have come and gone since LePage assembled that first Cabinet back in 2011, but Mayhew – whose only remotely relevant experience prior to this job was 12 years as the chief lobbyist for the Maine Hospital Association – remains.

Back on that day he invited Mayhew to this dance and, unlike all those other smart women, she said yes, LePage actually looked into the TV cameras and said, “My goal is to be more customer-friendly, to provide good customer service to those in need. We are not looking to throw anybody to the curb.”

Why bother? With Mayhew at the wheel, they’re just left standing there.

Bill Nemitz can be contacted at 791-6323 or at:

[email protected]

Twitter: @billnemitz

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