Dr. Dora Anne Mills, the new medical director of the MaineCare program who was fired Wednesday, Feb. 23 by the administration of Gov. Paul R. LePage, said she plans to enjoy her free time and weigh her options.

Asked what the future holds, Mills hinted she’s already had some job offers. “I’m looking forward to taking some time off,” she said. “I’ve had several possible opportunities presented to me already. I’m excited to explore them. I’m looking forward to the next chapter. I don’t know what the next chapter will be.”

Mills was well-liked by people on both sides of the political aisle in her role for almost 15 years as director of the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention. Many said they were disappointed to see her dismissed.

“Dora’s a very nice person. She’s well-liked by everybody. She’s an excellent person,” said Senate President Kevin Raye, R-Perry. “It does not strike me as unusual that a governor would put his own team into these positions.”

In early January, LePage also fired Tony Marple, director of MaineCare, Maine’s Medicaid program that provides health insurance to low-income and disabled adults and children.

MaineCare is the largest program within the Department of Health and Human Services, which is the largest, most expensive department in state government. For the upcoming fiscal year, ending June 30, 2012, some $2.4 billion is budgeted for Medicaid in Maine. Two-thirds of that is federal money. Medicaid benefits are paid to about 340,000 adults and children in Maine, or one in four Mainers.

Mills said that Marple recruited her last fall to come over to the Medicaid program as medical director to replace Dr. Rod Prior, who wanted to step down. The move was endorsed by then-DHHS Commissioner Brenda Harvey. Mills’ first day in her new job was Jan. 3.

Mayhew’s decision

Dan Demeritt, LePage’s communications director, said Mary Mayhew, the new commissioner of DHHS, made the decision to dismiss Mills after consulting with LePage.

Mills was called at Sugarloaf, where she and her family were on a skiing vacation, with the news that she had been relieved of her duties, though nobody will say who made the call. Mills said it was somebody other than Mayhew who called.

In a press release the afternoon of Feb. 23, John Martins, spokesperson for DHHS, said, “As DHHS continues to assemble its new leadership team, Dr. Dora Anne Mills has been relieved of her duties as medical director at the Office of MaineCare services effective immediately … As this is a personnel issue and as such, confidential, no further details will be released.”

Mayhew has said she is conducting a “top-to-bottom” review of DHHS personnel and programs to see where they can be made more efficient.

On March 1 Mayhew announced she was appointing Bill Boeschenstein Jr. of Cape Elizabeth to the new position of chief operating officer at DHHS and Bonnie Smith of Portland as deputy commissioner of programs. She said Boeschenstein would be conducting a comprehensive analysis of the department to “identify opportunities for improved performance and greater efficiencies, eliminating barriers to improve transparency and identifying changes necessary to most effectively and efficiently meet the needs of Maine’s most vulnerable.”

Boeschenstein has 30 years of experience in banking and the energy industry.

Demeritt would not say if Mills’ firing had anything to do with the push to achieve more savings from Medicaid by removing some beneficiaries from the Medicaid rolls. Demeritt also has denied that her firing was because of Mills’ stated warnings about the hazards of the chemical additive BPA. LePage wants to repeal a law calling for a ban on BPA in children’s products.

“The election is a change in administrations,” said Demeritt. “We have a new governor. It’s not even been two months yet. We’re going to look at every position and we’re going to evaluate it. Those positions (Mills’ and Marple’s) will be filled.”

Marple, who was director of MaineCare for four years and chief financial officer at MaineGeneral Medical Center in Augusta for 22 years before that, has found a new position as interim chief financial officer at Mercy Hospital in Portland.

He would not speak about his firing, but Marple said, “I have the highest regard for what Dora Mills has done for the state over the years.”

Mills’ background

Mills was honored with the Crystal Heart Award by the American Heart Association in Portland on March 1 for her work on behalf of heart health.

“It’s ironic, I get honored by the American Heart Association the same week I get fired,” she said.

Mills, 51, is a Farmington native who lives in Brunswick with her husband, Michael J. Fiori, a businessman, and their two children, ages 8 and 11. Her brother, Peter Mills, was a Republican state senator who ran for governor against LePage last year. Her sister, Janet Mills, was the most recent Democratic attorney general.

She holds a master’s degree in public health from Harvard University School of Public Health; an internship and residency in pediatrics from Children’s Hospital of Los Angeles; a medical degree from the University of Vermont School of Medicine; and a bachelor’s degree from Bowdoin College. She graduated from Mount Blue High School.

As director of the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention, a job also known as public health director, Mills achieved national prominence in 2009 and early 2010 after she coordinated the statewide immunization of schoolchildren against the H1N1, or swine flu, pandemic. Maine had one of the highest immunization rates in the nation.

She worked as a pediatrician in Farmington for four years before being tapped by independent Gov. Angus King in 1996 to head up the CDC. She also previously worked as a pediatrician in Pasadena, Calif.

In 1992, she was a trip physician for a three-month trek through India, Nepal and Tibet. She also was a volunteer physician for one month with the Missionaries of Charity in Calcutta, India, where she met and had her work blessed by Mother Teresa.

In 1985-86, she was a volunteer physician at a mission hospital in Tanzania, East Africa.

Reaction to firing

Peter Mills of Skowhegan said, “I honestly don’t know why [Dora Mills] was fired. Most of the people who left Human Services either were fired or left about five or six weeks ago. She thought she was supposed to stay. The place is empty. You have to ask yourself who is running state government right now. I don’t think she knows the reason she was let go.”

Rep. Sharon Treat, D-Hallowell, said of Mills’ firing, “I am very concerned about that on a couple of levels. She was one of the only experienced people available. She has tremendous integrity. Everything she’s done politically has been very focused on science. I feel like she is very much a scientist.”

“She’s a very smart, capable person who does not come with a personal agenda,” Treat said, “I hope they can get it together for that department. You need to have people who know what they’re doing.”

“The best governors are governors who are willing to listen to all points of view,” Treat said.

Rep. Anna Blodgett, D-Augusta, said of the firing of Mills, “I’m not surprised. He [LePage] is bringing in all of his own team. Nothing surprises me now. It’s a real shame. It’s very disheartening. Nothing is based on facts. That bothers me. It’s kind of scary. There seems to be no priority on jobs as promised.”

LePage’s proposals

LePage has discussed at least four possible changes he may undertake at DHHS and MaineCare to produce savings:

• The governor would like to lower the income threshold for receiving Medicaid benefits for adults with children from 200 percent of poverty to 133 percent of poverty, which is the federal threshold. He would need federal permission to do this, a move that would push a number of recipients off the Medicaid rolls.

• LePage has said he wants to spend less Medicaid dollars on childless adults on Medicaid, who qualify at 100 percent of the poverty level, reducing their number. This also needs federal approval. Critics say the move would hurt homeless people and disabled veterans.

• Mayhew has suspended a long-awaited plan to contract Medicaid services out to private managed care networks to save money. Mills was to have overseen this transition.

• LePage has spoken of possibly splitting the Department of Health and Human Services into two separate, smaller departments — one for health, the other for welfare. This comes after the administration of former Gov. John Baldacci labored for years to successfully consolidate the departments of Human Services and Behavioral and Developmental Services (mental health and retardation) into DHHS.