PROVIDENCE, NBC 10 NEWS — Another high level state staffer in Rhode Island is out of a job.
NBC 10 News confirmed that Executive Office of Health and Human Services Secretary Elizabeth Roberts handed in her resignation to Gov. Gina Raimondo Tuesday afternoon.
Raimondo later spoke to the media at the Rhode Island State House, noting that she accepted the resignation.
"It was her choice and I commend her for it," Raimondo told NBC 10 News.
Roberts' job was on the line due to the botched roll out of the new computer system within the United Healthcare Infrastructure Project (UHIP) at the Department of Human Services.
When the system launched in September, thousands of Rhode Islanders saw their benefits like food stamps, healthcare and child care, cut off because of glitches. More than 24,000 cases are still backlogged for one reason or another.
"I think she realized, as I realized, that the challenges we're having with UHIP require a new set of eyes -- a fresh set of eyes," Raimondo said of Roberts. "What I will say is Secretary Roberts has been in public service for decades and has done so many good things for the people of Rhode Island. For me, as my secretary, we have a lot to be proud of."
Roberts was the former lieutenant governor under Gov. Lincoln Chafee, who helped launch Health Source Rhode Island.
“Roberts has dedicated the last two decades of her professional and personal life to public service,” Raimondo said in a statement. “She has fought her entire career to expand access to affordable health care for more people.”
Raimondo went on to note that as secretary, Roberts “played a key role in our successful efforts to drive Rhode Island’s uninsured rate to one of the lowest in the nation while reducing costs. At this time however, it has become clear that the challenges faced by UHIP require new leadership. As Governor, I am committed to doing whatever is needed to get this fixed for the people of Rhode Island.”
While NBC 10 reached out to Roberts for a comment, she instead issued a statement. She pointed to success in other areas, but made no mention of UHIP.
“It has been a tremendous honor to serve in Governor Raimondo’s administration over the past two years,” Roberts wrote. “With the Governor’s leadership, we have set Rhode Island’s Medicaid program on a sustainable path to provide high-quality, affordable healthcare for the nearly one in three Rhode Islanders we serve. Across our state’s public health and human service agencies, we have also put significant reforms in place to provide better care, services and outcomes for some of our most vulnerable community members. I am committed to supporting the administration during and after the transition to new leadership.”
Roberts has become the third state department boss to lose their job due to the failed UHIP rollout. On Jan. 12, Raimondo accepted the resignations of the department’s director, Melba Depena Affigne, as well as the state’s Chief Digital Officer Thom Guertin.
Meanwhile, Rhode Island lawmakers who led a months-long inquiry on the UHIP problems are reacting to Roberts’ resignation.
“When you roll out an expensive computer system as this one was and you lay off 70 employees, that speaks of poor management to me,” Rep. Patricia Serpa said. “So it kind of makes sense that the manager at the top is where the buck stops.”
Rep. Mike Chippendale said Roberts demonstrated that she did not have the leadership ability to see the project to fruition.
He also doesn't think her departure will change anything.
“To have resignations put out there as if they are solutions, I reject that wholeheartedly,” he said. “This is a time for the governor to step up, take personal responsibility for it, take actions that are decisive, and that have an exact time line that will all us to know when our constituents will receive the services that they so desperately need.”
Raimondo’s office noted that the governor will hold a press conference Wednesday at 10 a.m. at the Rhode Island Department of Administration to discuss a turnaround plan. The briefing will also highlight Acting DHS Director Eric Beane's 30-day analysis of UHIP, as well as the actions Rainomdo will take going forward.
“It’s time for new leadership,” Raimondo told NBC 10. I think that we have not gone after it with the urgency that is necessary,” Raimondo said.
When asked if more needs to be done within the governor's office, as well, Raimondo noted that she believes “there is no lack of urgency coming from me. We are on this and we're going to fix it. We knew it was going to be a rocky rollout, but this is unacceptable.”