A Maine Department of Health and Human Services call center in Wilton will remain where it is for another year after local lawmakers lobbied against the consolidation of jobs in a location an hour away, according to emails.
Health Commissioner Jeanne Lambew told staff that the lease of the Wilton building where around 45 staff would work would continue based on the landlord’s commitment to address space issues. Issues include repairing security doors and fixing ventilation in the building.
The development is a victory for the Franklin County Legislative Delegation, which communicated with Gov. Janet Mills’ administration about how a planned move to bring the jobs to Lewiston would put workers on a long commute. The closure plans were released publicly last month.
The center opened in 2019 shortly after Barclays left the region, taking 200 jobs with it. Sen. Russell Black, R-Wilton, Rep. Randall Hall, R-Wilton and Rep. Scott Landry, D-Farmington were briefed on the development Wednesday, according to emails.
“This decision reflects the administration’s goal of continuing to support the economy in rural Maine as well as its commitment to providing safe and adequate workspace for its workers,” Lambew said in an email.
Not all jobs may stay at the center during the pandemic. Lambew told staff that a “handful” of vacancies at the center will move to Lewiston due to overcrowding issues. The ministry will assess whether to continue the lease at the same location next year.
Lambew thanked employees for their work last week, noting that the call center’s original mission of answering questions about Medicaid expansion has also grown to perform contact tracing and case notification during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The news was cheered by members of both parties. Black, who drafted legislation to block the shutdown, said it was an example of the state’s willingness to protect rural workers.
Maine House Speaker Ryan Fecteau, D-Biddeford and Senate Speaker Troy Jackson, D-Allagash thanked the department for moving quickly on the matter, saying Black’s bill to keep the open center — which Jackson filed last week after a dispute with the Republican senator — would have taken longer and caused heartache for employees.
Real credit should go to state employees who stood up for each other, said Jeff McCabe, a former House Majority Leader who is now a spokesman for the state employees union.
“We’ve seen members become leaders and take collective action in their own hands to save jobs,” he said.
Correction: An earlier version of this story gave Jeff McCabe an incorrect position.