HARRISBURG — A former Pennsylvania state lawmaker was named Friday to run the massive Department of Public Welfare after two years of missteps, embarrassments and federal scrutiny over why tens of thousands of children disappeared from Medicaid rolls.
Bev Mackereth will be the department's acting secretary, Gov. Tom Corbett said. She will succeed Gary Alexander, a Rhode Island resident who told The Associated Press earlier this week that he had planned to leave the post. His last day will be Feb. 15.
Mackereth, of York County, served eight years as a Republican in the state House of Representatives and has managed the department's Office of Children, Youth and Families since November 2011. She also served as executive director of York County Human Services.
Even after the Republican governor nominated Alexander in 2011, Rhode Island officials were disputing his claims of cost-cutting achievements in his previous role as that state's secretary of Health and Human Services.
Alexander's efforts to cut costs in Pennsylvania frequently drew criticism from Democrats and advocates for the poor and disabled. That included accusations the department improperly kicked some people off Medicaid after nearly 90,000 children had disappeared from Medicaid rolls.
Federal officials who investigated said many cases were closed for paperwork technicalities after caseworkers were too bogged down to do the required reviews of information that people had submitted to verify their eligibility.
In a statement Friday, Corbett thanked Alexander for his service, and cited an innovation award from the Council of State Governments for Alexander's efforts to improve department programs and save millions of dollars.
Secretary Alexander has been a tremendous asset in prioritizing our funding and eliminating waste, fraud and abuse in our welfare programs, Corbett said in a statement.
The GOP chairwoman of the Senate Public Health and Welfare Committee, Pat Vance, has been critical of Alexander, saying his frequent trips to Rhode Island and his below-par people skills left top department officials feeling rudderless.
I think that probably the communication was not good and maybe the understanding of the Pennsylvania process was not good as well, Vance said Friday of Alexander.