2 top administrators resign amid UHIP troubles

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — Gov. Gina Raimondo has accepted the resignations of two top administrators as troubles continue with the state’s benefits eligibility system.

The United Healthcare Infrastructure Project – otherwise known as UHIP – has been plagued with problems since its launch four months ago.

In a news conference Thursday, Raimondo said Department of Health and Human Services Director Melba Depena and Chief Digital Officer Thom Guertin will be stepping down.

The governor reassigned her administration’s chief operating officer, Eric Beane, to immediately take over as acting director of the DHS. She said Beane’s job will be to diagnose the challenges related to UHIP, as well as international and departmental challenges.

Chief Information Officer Chris Antonellis will take over as acting director of the Department of Information Technology until a full-time replacement is found, according to Raimondo.

In addition, the governor announced she has ordered the Department of Administration to suspend all payments to Deloitte, the vendor that built UHIP. She said nearly $15 million in payments to Deloitte will be withheld as the state performs a full and new analysis of the company’s performance and the stability of the computer system.

“Rhode Islanders will not pay another penny to Deloitte until we are satisfied that they are delivering and that they are in compliance with the terms of their contact,” said Raimondo.

The $364 million system was created to manage all of the state’s social services, such as SNAP benefits, HealthSource RI insurance accounts, Medicaid enrollment, and state Supplemental Security Income (SSI) payments.

Scores of residents have complained of issues and delays in receiving their benefits, leading federal officials to order the state to submit a corrective action plan and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) to file a lawsuit against the state over the food stamp program.

Despite changes that have been made, such as adding more staffing and customer hours, Raimondo said the pace of improvement hasn’t been adequate.

“I have grown more and more frustrated as the months have gone by,” she said. “And my frustration isn’t nearly as deep or as relevant as the frustration of our clients who deserve, and will receive, better customer service.”

Depena became the DHS director in 2015. Prior to the high-profile post, she was the administrator of the Crime Victims Compensation Fund in the treasurer’s office. She also served on Gov. Raimondo’s transition staff.

Guertin is the state’s first Chief Digital Officer. Former Gov. Lincoln Chafee appointed him to the position in 2012. He was overseeing the implementation of the UHIP and DMV computer systems and acted as a liaison to Deloitte.

Raimondo said both Depena and Guertin will temporarily remain in their positions to ensure a smooth transition.

“I want to particularly recognize Director Depena,” she added. “Who I think is probably my administration’s most genuinely empathetic voice, and her commitment to Rhode Islanders served by DHS and the clients of DHS has never been in question.”

Raimondo said she’ll be looking for someone who has a similar commitment to the community when searching for Depena’s successor.