HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) -- A former Pennsylvania state lawmaker was named Friday to run the massive Department of Public Welfare after two years of missteps, embarrassments and federal scrutiny over why tens of thousands of children disappeared from Medicaid rolls.
Bev Mackereth will be the department's acting secretary, Gov. Tom Corbett said. She will succeed Gary Alexander, a Rhode Island resident who told The Associated Press earlier this week that he had planned to leave the post. His last day will be Feb. 15.
Mackereth, of York County, served eight years as a Republican in the state House of Representatives and has managed the department's Office of Children, Youth and Families since November 2011. She also served as executive director of York County Human Services.
Even after the Republican governor nominated Alexander in 2011, Rhode Island officials were disputing his claims of cost-cutting achievements in his previous role as that state's secretary of Health and Human Services.
Alexander's efforts to cut costs in Pennsylvania frequently drew criticism from Democrats and advocates for the poor and disabled. That included accusations the department improperly kicked some people off Medicaid after nearly 90,000 children had disappeared from Medicaid rolls.
Federal officials who investigated said many cases were closed for paperwork technicalities after caseworkers were too bogged down to do the required reviews of information that people had submitted to verify their eligibility.
In a statement Friday, Corbett thanked Alexander for his service, and cited an innovation award from the Council of State Governments for Alexander's efforts to improve department programs and save millions of dollars.
"Secretary Alexander has been a tremendous asset in prioritizing our funding and eliminating waste, fraud and abuse in our welfare programs," Corbett said in a statement.
The GOP chairwoman of the Senate Public Health and Welfare Committee, Pat Vance, has been critical of Alexander, saying his frequent trips to Rhode Island and his below-par people skills left top department officials feeling rudderless.
"I think that probably the communication was not good and maybe the understanding of the Pennsylvania process was not good as well," Vance said Friday of Alexander.
The agency also failed to deliver on Alexander's pledge to find substantial savings from waste, fraud and abuse, Vance said.
Some of Alexander's clashes with agency employees might have been inevitable: He brought conservative views to an agency staffed by many people with liberal views, Vance said.
Mackereth, Vance said, "will improve the morale in the department because she is very warm and caring. She'll be a good change for them."
The controversy over the Medicaid rolls wasn't the department's only embarrassing stumble under Alexander.
In 2011, the department retracted at least four proposals to change programs, including slashing reimbursements for various services for the intellectually disabled, after a protest by advocates for the poor and disabled who said they hadn't been consulted in advance.
Most recently, home care workers for Medicaid-enrolled disabled clients had trouble getting paid after the department switched paycheck-processing companies.
Some of Alexander's hirings also raised eyebrows.
A top aide with no experience in public welfare programs or social services was punished after he apparently accosted a 66-year-old woman who had parked in his spot, called her names and blocked her car with his.
Another top aide resigned last year after The Philadelphia Inquirer began asking questions about opinions he had expressed as editor of a conservative journal, including his dislike for department-administered programs born in the War on Poverty of the 1960s.