Gov.-elect Dan Malloy has reappointed Patricia Rehmer to serve as commissioner of the state Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services, a post she has held since last year.

Patricia Rehmer

Patricia Rehmer

Rehmer joined the agency in 1999 and served as deputy commissioner from 2004 to 2009. A nurse by training, Rehmer has also worked at the Institute of Living and served as CEO of the Capitol Region Mental Health Center.

“Commissioner Rehmer has been a leader in the fields of mental health and addiction services throughout her career, and I’m pleased that she and I will be working together to help those citizens in Connecticut who need our help the most,” Malloy said in a statement released by his transition team. “Particularly because the population she serves relies on the continuity of service and programs DMHAS provides, I’m glad that she and I have a shared vision for the department and will continue her tenure uninterrupted.”

In a statement, Rehmer said, “I appreciate Governor-Elect Malloy’s confidence in me as he takes office and begins to implement his own vision and ideas for the state. Working together I believe that we will continue to provide these essential services for those in our state very much in need. In these difficult times, we cannot forget those who need our help the most.”

News of Rehmer’s reappointment drew praise from advocates for people the department serves.

“We’re more than pleased,” said Alicia Woodsby, public policy director for the National Alliance on Mental Illness, Connecticut. “People feel comfortable with her and they really feel like she’s listening and cares about our needs.”

Terry Edelstein, CEO of the Connecticut Community Providers Association, which represents groups that serve people with disabilities, substance abuse and mental illness, called Rehmer “a responsive and conscientious partner with community providers and the people they serve.”

“Some of the things that have happened in the past year are very promising,” Edelstein said.

Those include converting state-administered general assistance, which served many people with addictions, into a Medicaid program, allowing the state to receive federal reimbursement and more people to enroll. Edelstein also cited DMHAS’ role in the state’s highly regarded behavioral health partnership.

In announcing Rehmer’s reappointment, the Malloy transition team noted Rehmer’s effort to maximize federal resources. That’s something she will likely need to do more of as the state grapples with a massive budget deficit, said Sheila Amdur, a National Alliance on Mental Illness board member and a former member of the DMHAS state advisory board.

Mental health departments across the country are facing the prospect of budget cuts, but Amdur said DMHAS has some advantages because Connecticut has not used Medicaid to finance all the services it could. Making better use of Medicaid program options could bring the state more federal funds, she said.

Amdur praised Rehmer for embracing community-based services and focusing on program outcomes.

“She has really continued to try to move the department to much more accountable services, more outcome-driven services,” she said.

Connecticut has a “pretty well-run” mental health system, but it has holes, including money being spent on prisons and nursing homes for people who could be cared for in the community, Amdur said.

“Pat knows this,” Amdur said. “She’s open, she’s I think very eager to work with a broad range of stakeholders, and that to me is very encouraging.”

Arielle Levin Becker covered health care for The Connecticut Mirror. She previously worked for The Hartford Courant, most recently as its health reporter, and has also covered small towns, courts and education in Connecticut and New Jersey. She was a finalist in 2009 for the prestigious Livingston Award for Young Journalists, a recipient of a Knight Science Journalism Fellowship and the third-place winner in 2013 for an in-depth piece on caregivers from the National Association of Health Journalists. She is a 2004 graduate of Yale University.

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