Montana's Health Department Getting New Leadership

HELENA, Mont. (AP) — The state of Montana's largest department is getting new leadership, Gov. Greg Gianforte said Thursday.

Adam Meier is leaving as director of the Department of Public Health and Human Services on Aug. 12 due to an ongoing family health issue, the governor's office said in a statement. He will be succeeded by Charlie Brereton, the health department's chief of staff and Gianforte's health care policy advisory.

Meier assumed leadership in February 2021 over the agency that includes child and family services, developmental services, Medicare and Medicaid coverage, public health and safety and senior and long-term care.

His agency was responsible for implementing legislation that prohibited discrimination based on vaccination status as some employers sought to mandate COVID-19 vaccines. He helped improve availability of addiction treatment and helped reorganize the agency to better serve Montanans, Gianforte said.

The agency — which has a $3 billion annual budget and 3,000 employees — has faced criticism.

During Meier's tenure, the U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services investigated the Montana State Hospital in Warm Springs several times after finding the psychiatric facility put patients in jeopardy, contributing to the deaths of at least four patients.

Another patient had died in August 2021 after staff ignored her complaints that she couldn’t catch her breath. CMS found hospital officials did not properly investigate her death.

The hospital was being allowed to correct deficiencies until a patient was physically assaulted in March, causing serious injuries. CMS then stopped reimbursements for the state hospital.

The state hospital's administrator was transferred out of his position in May, when the hospital was at least $7 million over budget because it had to hire traveling nurses at higher cost to meet staffing needs.

The state recently contracted for an outside review of health department agencies, starting with the state hospital.

“Despite navigating many challenges, I am proud of what we’ve accomplished during the first 18 months of the Gianforte administration. DPHHS is well positioned to continue addressing issues that have long plagued the health and human services ecosystem here in Montana," Meier said in a statement.