Top state health official to step down, pursue private sector opportunities

  • Meyers

Monitor staff
Published: 10/14/2019 1:01:00 PM

New Hampshire’s Health and Human Services commissioner, Jeffrey Meyers, will step down at the end of the year, he announced Monday, bringing to a close a four-year term that oversaw sweeping change at the state agency.

In a statement Monday morning, Meyers said he will likely look for work in the private sector.

“It has been a privilege to serve as the state’s Health and Human Services commissioner for nearly four years,” Meyers said.

But, he added: “I wish to seek out new opportunities in the private sector. I will begin those efforts after I leave office.”

Appointed in January 2016 by then-Gov. Maggie Hassan, Meyers took over a department in flux. Rocked by a surge in opioid overdoses, an emergency room mental health boarding backlog and a crisis at the state’s social services agency, Meyers had his work cut out for him.

In the years since, the former attorney has taken control of the 3,000-employee department – New Hampshire’s largest – and oversaw sweeping attempts to fix each of those crises.

Aided by legislative appropriations in Concord and Washington, he helped roll out a $46 million “hub and spoke” opioid treatment program, a blueprint for a new forensic psychiatric hospital, and a dramatic expansion of workers at the state Division for Children, Youth and Families.

But he also endured his share of rough patches, from the attempted implementation of a Medicaid work requirement program recently invalidated by a federal judge, to a lawsuit by the American Civil Liberties Union over involuntary boarding of patients.

Before taking the top health post, Meyers had experience in state government, serving as legal counsel to the state Senate and later as an attorney for Gov. John Lynch. It was in the State House that his interest in health care policy took form, he said in an interview Monday.

As Senate lawyer he worked closely with senators on health-related bills. But as counsel to the governor, the job took him down to Washington as an aide to the governor on outreach trips to the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

That gave him a front-row seat to the development of the Affordable Care Act, which would soon transform vast portions of the state’s health care system.

Later, under Hassan, Meyers served as a DHHS government relations representative. And in 2014, at the directive of Hassan, he oversaw the implementation of New Hampshire’s “Medicaid expansion” program, which just narrowly scraped together the votes to clear the Legislature.

The post would eventually lead to Meyers’s appointment to lead the whole agency in 2016.

On Dec. 6, Meyers will leave that post rather than seek a re-nomination, concluding his first four-year term. It was a decision he made from the beginning, he said, part of a promise to his family.

“I have valued every minute,” he said during the interview. “Despite the challenges, I feel privileged, and have genuinely enjoyed serving in this.”

But, he added: “I really believe at the end of the day it’s a job that’s intended to be one term. I certainly would never want to be in the position where I continued and did not feel that I could put into it what I needed to put into it.”

Once out, Meyers will be looking to work on national health policy, he said.

In a statement, the governor’s office said the search for Meyers’s successor “will begin immediately” and that candidates should reach out to the governor’s director of appointments, Jonathan Melanson.

Left to his successor are a number of initiatives just underway or still to come, from the implementation of the state’s 10-year mental health plan, to the rollout of the hub-and-spoke program, to a new federal mandate that the state overhaul its foster care system for children.

But Meyers said Sununu and the Legislature had put the state on a good track, and he lauded the staff he’ll leave behind.

“The money is there to undertake these efforts, number one, and number two, I built a team in the department, a leadership team that I’m incredibly proud of … and are very capable of moving and advancing all of these efforts in the coming months,” he said.

New Hampshire political leaders paid tribute Monday.

Praising Meyers, Sununu drew particular attention to his work at DCYF, which is seeking to stem a rising tide of child services cases after years staff shortages.

“Jeff has been a tireless advocate for New Hampshire’s vulnerable children and helped usher in new reforms that are rebuilding DCYF from the ground up,” Sununu said. “From overseeing our fiscally conservative Medicaid expansion program to prioritizing key areas of need in our mental health system, Jeff has been a strong voice and advocate for many, and will be missed by all in state service.”

Senate President Donna Soucy, a Manchester Democrat, highlighted Meyers’s work at facilitating broad shifts to the state’s Medicaid expansion program, which was approved for an additional five years in 2018.

“I am grateful for Jeff’s dedication to our state and his work to improve access to mental health care, combat the opioid epidemic, and implement the New Hampshire Health Protection Program,” Soucy said.

(Ethan DeWitt can be reached at edewitt@cmonitor.com, at (603) 369-3307, or on Twitter at @edewittNH.)




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