DHHS Commissioner testifies in front of Government Oversight Committee

AUGUSTA, Maine (WABI) - Department of Health and Human Services Commissioner Ricker Hamilton spoke for the first time since the death of two children sparked an investigation into his department.

He testified in front of the Government Oversight Committee after being subpoenaed by committee members when he failed to show at their last work session.

Senator Roger Katz, Committee Chair said, "We are very glad that the Commissioner came, that we could have the kind of discussion with administration that we've been wanting to have for weeks now."

Committee members with the help of an independent legislative watchdog agency have been investigating DHHS after two child deaths, discussing ways in which the department may have failed to protect them and ways to improve the system so that it doesn't happen again.

DHHS Commissioner Ricker Hamilton said during the meeting, "Mandatory reporting seems to be something that's important to this committee, training, and employee welfare, ongoing and communication."

One of the biggest take-aways from the meeting was the announcement of a new bill from the Governor.

Hamilton said, "Just the highlight, from what we're seeing is increased staff, increase of Office of Child Protective Services staff, increase pay for those people doing that job. We're looking at statutes whether that's mandatory reporting, record retention, criminal background checks, all of those will be in there."

The commissioner says they are looking at adding 75 employees and increasing compensation, how much of an increase he says would be up to the legislature.

Katz said, "Obviously the details of the bill remain to be seen but I think we all want to do something to make sure that this doesn't happen again. If there are things that we can do now that are going to make this system better it wouldn't be responsible for us to wait until next year. Let's get it done now. And if it means coming back in a special session then that's what we've got to do."