Lawmakers, Hogan administration at odds over secretary’s absence from health briefing

A briefing between the Maryland Department of Health and Maryland General Assembly committees was abruptly ended Friday, after the state’s health secretary did not appear. (Screenshot via Zoom)

This content was republished with permission from WTOP’s news partners at Maryland Matters. Sign up for Maryland Matters’ free email subscription today.

A joint briefing of two legislative committees went far shorter than was anticipated Friday afternoon, after Maryland’s Health secretary didn’t appear.

“This is unacceptable. We’re going to reschedule this briefing,” House Health and Government Operations Chairwoman Shane E. Pendergrass (D-Howard) said during the joint meeting that also included members of the Senate Finance Committee and House Appropriations Committee.

The meeting ended in just over five minutes, though Maryland Department of Health Assistant Secretary Webster Ye said he was prepared to move forward with a presentation on the issues to be discussed. Also present was Dr. Aliya Jones, deputy secretary for behavioral health.

But Pendergrass took the extraordinary step of halting the briefing.

“I am astonished and disheartened to hear that the secretary’s other commitments supersede meeting with the people who are present here today,” Pendergrass said.

Senate Finance Chairwoman Delores G. Kelley (D-Baltimore County) expressed agreement with the decision.

“The meeting that we were here to have is of critical importance. And all who were invited and were here deserve to have to the top level of the Health department hear our concerns,” Kelley said.

The briefing was scheduled to address concerns with reimbursement rates and regulatory changes for health programs, including for home health care programs and telehealth care for behavioral health providers.

About 10 health care providers were present for the call, which Pendergrass said she hoped could be rescheduled for next week.

“I apologize to all of the stakeholders who are present. All of the people who have made room in their schedule,” Pendergrass said. “I know many of you have other jobs, whereas the secretary has one job.”

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

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

He said Pendergrass “chose to pull a stunt” in canceling the virtual meeting once everyone was assembled. Pendergrass said she received updated meeting documents on Thursday, but wasn’t aware Schrader would not attend.

“What happened today is deeply disrespectful to Dr. Jones, and to the rest of the providers as well,” Ricci texted.

He said the administration was reviewing a request by the committees to reschedule the meeting.

Pendergrass said regardless of when the committee members might have known about Schrader’s absence, the fact that a legislative hearing was not prioritized reflected a trend by his office.

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

This article was written by WTOP’s news partners at Maryland Matters and republished with permission. Sign up for Maryland Matters’ free email subscription today.

More from WTOP

Log in to your WTOP account for notifications and alerts customized for you.

Sign up