FRANKFORT — A former staffer for President Bill Clinton and Tipper Gore has been named head of the embattled Cabinet for Health and Family Services, which oversees social service programs in Kentucky.
Gov. Steve Beshear announced Thursday that Audrey Tayse Haynes will take over as secretary of the cabinet on April 16.
Haynes has worked in a variety of roles in social service organizations in Kentucky and in Washington D.C. Most recently, she was senior vice president of the YMCA of the USA.
Haynes also was chief of staff to Tipper Gore, former Vice President Al Gore's wife, during Gore's second term. Haynes was a senior staffer to Clinton, as director of the White House Office for Women's Initiatives and Outreach.
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"Audrey brings a dynamic mix of large-scale organization management, policy development, and government experience to this position, and I'm very pleased that she is bringing those talents back to us in Kentucky," Beshear said in a statement.
Haynes takes over for Janie Miller, who resigned the position last month to pursue other opportunities. The cabinet, which oversees child and adult protection, food stamps, Medicaid, public health departments and the inspection of nursing homes, has had a tumultuous few years.
The transition of 560,000 Medicaid patients to managed care on Nov. 1. has not been smooth, with many health- care providers complaining about delays in payment and cumbersome pre-authorizations for treatment.
The cabinet also has been in a two-year legal battle with the state's two largest newspapers, the Lexington Herald-Leader and The Courier-Journal of Louisville, over the release of child-protection records after a child is killed as a result of abuse or neglect.
Haynes, who has bachelor's and master's degrees in social work, worked in the cabinet as director of human resource development before moving to Washington D.C.
A native of Adair County, she began her social work career in Somerset as a drug and alcohol counselor.
"I am excited to be back in Kentucky full time, and I am honored to be working in this cabinet," Haynes said in a written statement. "I feel that I am returning to my roots of social work and mental health services, and I'm pleased to be part of a cabinet that provides such critical services to Kentuckians."
Haynes met with key members of the legislature early Thursday before her appointment was announced. Haynes was not available for media interviews.
Sen. Julie Denton, chairwoman of the Senate Health and Welfare Committee, has been critical of the cabinet's handling of the move to managed care and its missteps in child-protection cases. The Republican from Louisville also frequently locked horns with Miller in legislative hearings, at one point calling for her resignation.
"She seems very nice," Denton said of Haynes. "I told her my best advice is to partner with the legislature and work with us."
Denton said she also encouraged Haynes to put professionals — not political appointees — over Medicaid and the Department for Community Based Services, which oversees child and adult protection.
Rep. Tom Burch, D-Louisville, and chairman of the House Health and Welfare Committee, said he believes Haynes has the right background — in both politics and social services — to be effective.
"She's more open," Burch said.
Terry Brooks, of Kentucky Youth Advocates, has pushed the cabinet to be more open and transparent over the past year, particularly in the area of child protection. Brooks said Haynes' tenure will be judged on whether she can make the cabinet more transparent and accessible.
"As important as issues such as child fatalities, elder abuse and managed care are, none will be the basis in assessing our new cabinet secretary, " Brooks said. "Instead, the tests for Secretary Haynes will be around accountability, transparency and accessibility. If she addresses those three critical leadership issues, she carries the potential to chart a new day for the cabinet and perhaps influence a new day within the Beshear administration as a whole."