Roberts Resigns as RI Health and Human Services Secretary; Wood's Future Role Unclear

By Gina Macris 

Rhode Island’s Secretary of Health and Human Services, Elizabeth Roberts, resigned late Tuesday, Feb. 14, over the quagmire created by UHIP, the state’s computerized human services benefits system.

Governor Gina Raimondo, in a press conference outside her office, said she met with Roberts “and she presented me with her resignation, which I accepted.”

“It was her choice, and I commend her for it. I think she realized, as I realized, that the challenges we’re having with UHIP require a new set of eyes, and a fresh set of eyes. “

Roberts’ top aide for many years, Jennifer Wood, who is Deputy Secretary of Health and Human Services, has been involved closely with the roll-out of the UHIP computer system and also has directed the state’s compliance effort with a 2014 federal consent decree affecting adults with developmental disabilities.

Asked whether Wood’s position is at all affected by the problems of the UHIP rollout, Raimondo’s spokesman, David Ortiz, said in an email that the Governor would give a “full update” on Wednesday.

The resignation came on the eve of a briefing Raimondo has scheduled for the media on Wednesday, Feb. 15, to discuss an analysis of UHIP conducted during the last month by her chief operating officer, Eric Beane, and steps that will be taken going forward.

“Secretary Roberts has been in public service for decades and has done so many good things for the people of Rhode Island,” Raimondo said.

In a statement, Raimondo said Roberts has “fought her entire career to expand access to affordable healthcare for more people. As my Secretary of Health and Human Services, Elizabeth played a key role in our successful efforts to drive Rhode Island’s uninsured rate to one of the lowest in the nation while reducing costs.”

Roberts was criticized by Nicholas A. Oliver of the Rhode Island Partnership for Home Care.

In a statement, he said that “Roberts’ rigid view of the state healthcare system blinded her from understanding the realities of operating healthcare practices and agencies in Rhode Island.”

“Because Roberts was a visionary stemming from her healthcare public policy interest as a state senator and a lieutenant governor without practical operational experience as a healthcare provider, her naivete and inexperience led to her ineffectiveness in the role of Secretary,” Oliver said.

Roberts’ is the third resignation connected to the $364 million computer fiasco. Melba Depena Affigne, director of the Department of Human Services, and her chief digital officer, Thom Guertin, resigned in January under pressure from Raimondo.