Legislators who objected to DHHS’ Wilton call center’s closure applaud the administration’s decision to keep it open

The call center, which handles work for DHHS’ MaineCare program, will remain open for at least the next year while facility issues are addressed

AUGUSTA – Legislators in both of Maine’s houses who objected to the Department of Health and Human Services’ decision to terminate its lease and close its call center in Wilton applauded the administration’s decision to rescind the lease termination and work with the building’s landlord to address some of the building’s issues.

The decision to keep the call center open follows weeks of public pressure from Senator Russell Black (R-Franklin) and Representative Randall Hall (R-Wilton), both of whom were adamant that the call center housing 45 employees be kept open due to the long commute time, increasingly higher fuel costs and additional childcare expenses those employees would incur had they been forced to relocate to the DHHS office in Lewiston. Those who couldn’t relocate or work remotely were facing termination.

Sen. Russell Black – Franklin

“I thank Gov. Janet Mills and her administration for their efforts to protect our workers here in Wilton by keeping the call center open,” said Sen. Black. “We appreciate what the administration did in working with the landlord, and it shows their willingness to protect Maine’s rural workforce, many of whom depend on these state jobs to provide for their families.”

The announcement by Gov. Janet Mills’ Legislative Director Thomas Abello to the Wilton delegation on Wednesday morning said the move was made by DHHS Commissioner Jeanne Lambrew, who said the department revised its plan “to move from the office space in Wilton. It will extend the lease on the current Wilton building for current workers for another year, contingent on the landlord’s recent commitment to service improvements. Existing Wilton staff may remain working in Wilton.”

Lambrew also indicated that some of the open positions at the call center will be relocated to its Lewiston call center to alleviate overcrowding, which the department said has been a problem there. The change won’t affect any of the employees who are currently working there.

According to Abello, DHHS has provided a list of concerns regarding the building and indicated the landlord was open to addressing them. “We appreciate his commitment to improving responsiveness for the health and safety of our staff,” Abello said.

“This is positive news for Wilton DHHS Call Center employees and their families,” said Rep. Randall Hall (R-Wilton). “I appreciate being part of a community of supporters that is rising to the occasion to help save local jobs. We need to continue working to ensure that the center does not close.

Jeff McCabe, director of politics and legislation for the Maine Service Employees Association, said the call center remaining open was the result of the union, town leaders and the legislative delegation working together to protect the jobs in Wilton.

“This was a great example of workers stepping up to advocate for each other and their community, and working with their local delegation,” McCabe said, referring to the call center workers who came forward when the closure was announced. “We saw union members become leaders and take collective action in their own hands to save jobs.”

Wilton town selectman Thomas Saviello, who was also concerned about the loss of the jobs in his town, expressed his gratitude to Wilton’s delegation for putting pressure on DHHS to keep the workers there.

“I can’t say enough about the efforts put forward by Sen. Russ Black, Rep. Randy Hall, Rep. Scott Landry [D-Farmington] and Jeff McCabe from MSEA. Through their efforts, we were able to keep those DHHS workers employed and, more importantly, keep them here,” Saviello said. “It’s often left to local legislators who are closest to the people to be the main advocates for those people, and they proved to be so here.”

The DHHS call center opened in 2019 at the Department of Labor’s Career Center on Route 2 in Wilton amid the closure of Barclays’ call center, which resulted in the loss of 227 jobs in March 2019. Its purpose is to support the state’s MaineCare program, and employees there have also assisted with the state’s contact tracing efforts in the past.

Senator Russell Black is in his second term in the Maine Senate and represents District 7. He is the Senate Republican Lead for the Legislature’s Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry and Inland Fisheries and Wildlife committees.

Representative Randall Hall is in his second term in the Maine House and represents District 114. He is the Republican Lead for the Legislature’s Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry Committee.

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