Legislators, Hogan authorities at odds over secretary’s absence from well being briefing

A joint briefing by two legislative committees went much shorter than expected on Friday afternoon after Maryland’s Minister of Health failed to show up.

A briefing between the Maryland Department of Health and the Maryland General Assembly committees ended abruptly Friday after the state health secretary failed to appear. (Screenshot via zoom)

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A joint briefing by two legislative committees went much shorter than expected on Friday afternoon after Maryland’s Minister of Health failed to show up.

“This is unacceptable. We will postpone this briefing,” said Shane E. Pendergrass (D-Howard), Chair of the House of Representatives for Health and Government Operations, during the joint session, which was attended by members of the Senate Finance Committee and the Budget Committee.

The meeting ended in just over five minutes, although Maryland Department of Health Assistant Secretary Webster Ye said he was ready to move forward with a presentation on the issues under discussion. Also present was Dr. Aliya Jones, Assistant Secretary of Behavioral Health.

But Pendergrass took the extraordinary step of breaking off the meeting.

“I am amazed and discouraged to hear that the secretary’s other duties replace meeting with the people here today,” said Pendergrass.

The Senate Finance Chair, Delores G. Kelley, D-Baltimore County, approved the decision.

“The meeting we were here for is of the essence. And everyone who has been invited and has been here deserves to hear our concerns at the highest level in the Department of Health, ”said Kelley.

The briefing was planned to address concerns about reimbursement rates and regulatory changes for health programs, including home health programs and telemedicine for behavioral therapy providers.

About 10 health care providers were present on the call, which Pendergrass hoped could be postponed until next week.

“I apologize to everyone involved. All the people who made room on their schedule, ”Pendergrass said. “I know a lot of you have other jobs while the secretary has a job.”

The Maryland Department of Health communications bureau referred questions about the briefing to the governor’s office.

Michael Ricci, director of communications for the governor’s office, said the committee was informed Thursday morning that Health Secretary Dennis R. Schrader would not be able to attend.

He said Pendergrass decided to do a stunt when he canceled the virtual meeting once everyone was gathered. Pendergrass said she received updated meeting materials on Thursday but was unaware that Schrader would not be attending.

“What happened today is deeply disrespectful to Dr. Jones and also to the other vendors,” Ricci wrote.

He said the administration was considering a motion from the committees to postpone the meeting.

Pendergrass said regardless of when committee members knew of Schrader’s absence, the fact that a legislative hearing would not be a priority reflected a trend in his office.

“This is indicative of the way the legislature – the House Health and Government Operations Committee – has been handled by the department,” said Pendergrass. “… And how the lawyers and providers feel treated. It follows a pattern of not getting any answers. “

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