Adam Meier, director of the Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services, is resigning.
A press release issued last week by Gov. Greg Gianforte’s office said Meier, who assumed the role in February 2021, was leaving because of “an ongoing family health issue.” Meier will serve through July 22 and then will work “intermittently to assist with the transition” until Aug. 12. Taking his place is Meier’s Chief of Staff Charlie Brereton.
With an annual budget exceeding $3 billion, Montana’s Department of Public Health and Human Services (DPHHS) is the largest state agency, overseeing foster care, Medicaid, the state hospital system and COVID-19 response.
After Gianforte was elected governor, he said he was looking for a leader who would bring greater accountability, transparency and efficiency to an agency often criticized for having too many children in its foster care system.
Meier came into his position with a background as an attorney touting prior experience as Kentucky’s top health official. Brereton, a George Washington University graduate, is starting as department director Aug. 12, leading over 2,700 full-time staff positions. Independent Record reported he appears to have scarce experience in administration compared to Meier, who was secretary of the Kentucky Cabinet for Health and Human Services from May 2018 through December 2019.
Brereton has been the health care policy advisor to Gianforte for the past year and a half, and was appointed DPHHS chief of staff in December. Before that he was the health policy advisor for Sen. Lamar Alexander, (R-Tenn.) who was then-chair of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions, according to the Independent Record.
The public health department continues to guide state response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Gianforte’s office applauded Meier’s rollout of House Bill 702, the controversial “vaccine discrimination” law that would prevent most public and private workplaces from requiring that employees are vaccinated.
While Republicans supporting the law assert the importance of protecting Montanans’ rights, public health experts largely oppose it. In March the law was partially blocked by a judge and is now being challenged in court.
Also under Meier’s tenure, Montana lost a federal $2 million grant for family planning services. A nonprofit organization in Bozeman applied for funding and got it, prompted by a 2021 law that would have prevented DPHHS from contracting with any organization that provided non-federally qualified abortions.
The public health department also oversees the troubled Montana State Hospital. The department lost its federal reimbursement funds after the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services linked health and safety violations to preventable deaths at the hospital.
A spokesperson said Gianforte has “full confidence” that Brereton will meet the needs of vulnerable Montanans the way he pledged that Meier would.
“Charlie has a knack for leadership and a superior ability to develop relationships, building consensus on complex issues,” Gianforte said in the press release. “I look forward to continuing to benefit from his expertise, counsel, and hard work in this new role.”
“Our work has only begun, and I look forward to driving the administration’s health and human services objectives alongside our dedicated team,” Brereton said in the governor’s release.