Lori Weaver, assistant commissioner at the Department of Health and Human Services, is being considered for interim director to complete the term of outgoing commissioner, Lori Shibinette. (Annmarie Timmins | New Hampshire Bulletin)
The person who’s been serving as deputy commissioner of the Department of Health and Human Services for two years is in line for the top job – temporarily.
Lori Weaver, a 20-year veteran of the department, made her case to the Executive Council Thursday to finish the remaining year of outgoing Commissioner Lori Shibinette’s term or until a new commissioner is hired, whichever comes first. Asked if she’d be interested in taking on the commissioner role, Weaver said she would.
Weaver has served as Shibinette’s deputy since May 2020 but has worked at the department for 20 years, serving under seven commissioners. Shibinette announced in July that she would leave her post in December to spend more time with family.
Weaver told councilors her priorities would include finding a way to fill positions in the midst of a workforce shortage, a pressing need that has left the department struggling to hire enough staff to run the Sununu Youth Services Center safely.
Weaver had the support Thursday of Nick Toumpas, prior Health and Human Services commissioner, and Shibinette, both of whom said she has the leadership skills to be interim commissioner. Other supporters who testified in support of Weaver’s nomination included current department employees and members of law enforcement.
One Spofford mother vehemently opposed Weaver’s nomination. Victoria Gulla said she has homeschooled her children for two years rather than send them to school because of mask requirements. Gulla, who testified against masks during a legislative hearing this year, told councilors that Weaver failed residents by not opposing school mask mandates. School districts, not the department, set their own mask mandates.
“There is no apology for everything that was wrong from all the schools,” Gulla told the council. She continued: “I’ve been researching everything about COVID for all this time. Right from the beginning, I saw that everything that the department did was wrong about COVID.”
There were only two questions Weaver struggled to answer, both related to the state’s response to the COVID-19 public health pandemic.
Councilor David Wheeler, a Milford Republican, asked Weaver if she believed that providing ivermectin to a child was child abuse. The drug was a hot topic this year, with lawmakers passing legislation allowing pharmacists to dispense it without a prescription. Gov. Chris Sununu vetoed the bill.
After a long pause, Weaver told Wheeler, “I don’t know how to answer that question.”
Wheeler also asked Weaver if she believed lockdowns, such as those instituted by Sununu at the start of the pandemic, were necessary.
“I think we have COVID under control with the tools and recourse we have,” she said. “I don’t think a lockdown is necessary. I don’t have any authority to do a lock down, so it’s not in my purview. So, I don’t have an answer for that.”
Wheeler also asked whether Weaver or her department would mandate a COVID-19 vaccine for children to attend school and child care programs. “We will not be mandating a COVID vaccine for children,” she replied.
Sununu formed a selection committee in August to identify finalists for the commissioner position. The names of candidates and potential nominees have not been made public. The council is expected to vote on Weaver’s nomination for interim commissioner as early as next week.
Following the hearing, Executive Councilor Cinde Warmington, a Concord Democrat, said she will vote for Weaver.
“Lori Weaver is a dedicated public servant, a proven leader, and a great nominee to lead the Department of Health and Human Services,” she said. “The current Deputy Commissioner of the largest agency in state government, Ms. Weaver has served various roles throughout the department extraordinarily well over the last two decades. She is ready to tackle critical issues impacting countless Granite Staters every day: homelessness, food security, mental health care, the opioid crisis, and more.”
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