August 28, 2014 at 5:50 pm

Michigan health director stepping down after small stroke

Jim Haveman (Dale G. Young / Detroit News)

Lansing— Jim Haveman has stepped down as director of the Michigan Department of Community Health to focus on his health following a small stroke, Gov. Rick Snyder’s office announced Thursday.

Nick Lyon, the Department’s chief deputy director, was named Community Health director, effective Sept. 12.

Haveman, 71, has overseen implementation of Michigan’s Medicaid health program for low-income residents. He experienced a small stroke in May, according to Snyder’s office.

“Director Haveman’s leadership has been instrumental as we’ve navigated an ambitious health and wellness agenda that has led to inclusive, bipartisan support to implement a number of key health initiatives that are making a real difference in Michiganders’ lives,” Snyder said in a statement.

“Jim’s commitment to the health and wellness of our residents has been evident in all that we’ve accomplished and I am grateful for his work. I understand and respect his decision to focus on his health and wish him and his family all the best. I know that Nick Lyon will be able to step in and continue the tremendous work and progress underway.”

Dave Finkbeiner, senior vice president of advocacy for the Michigan Health and Hospital Association, said Haveman has been well-regarded for his ability to forge partnerships to solve Michigan’s public health challenges. Michigan’s expanded Medicaid Program, called the Healthy Michigan Plan, “has gone as well as any state in the country, and for many, Michigan has been the model for creation of expanded coverage under the federal Medicaid program.”

“While we credit Mr. Haveman with a number of accomplishments, the one that stands out ... has been the development, passage and implementation of the Healthy Michigan plan, which is providing health insurance coverage to more than 350,000 people who had no coverage,” Finkbeiner said.

Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan CEO and President Daniel Loepp said Michigan has experienced improvements in its overall health under Haveman.

“Director Haveman has been a tireless advocate, never failing to meet the Department’s mission of protecting, preserving and promoting the health and safety of the people of Michigan,” Loepp said Thursday.

Haveman was appointed Community Health director in 2012. Previously, Haveman served in the Engler administration as the MDCH director from 1996 to 2003 and Department of Mental Health director from 1991 to 1996.

In 2003, Haveman was appointed by the White House as the Coalition Provisional Authority Senior Adviser to the Iraqi Ministry of Health. He was Iraq's Acting Minister of Health for the first three months of his 11-month tenure. His efforts focused on building a sustainable and equitable health care system for a free Iraq.

Haveman’s tenure has not been without controversy. As state mental health director under Gov. John Engler, Haveman oversaw the closing of 10 of the state’s 16 psychiatric hospitals. So contentious was the battle over closing Detroit’s Lafayette Clinic, he at one point was held in contempt by Wayne County Circuit Judge Richard Hathaway.

On Thursday, health care leaders heaped praise on Haveman. Conrad Mallett Jr., chief administrative officer of the Detroit Medical Center, called him “one of the finest public servants that I have had the privilege to know.”

“He was always a pleasure to be around, always interested in helping communities, like Detroit, find a way to solve problems,” Mallett said. “Jim is a very, very special guy to the DMC and we salute him and want him to know that, on behalf of all of us here, we thank you for all of the service that you have provided us.”

Mallett praised Snyder’s choice for Haveman’s replacement. Lyons was deputy director of the Michigan Department of Community Health’s Operations Administration from 2010 to 2011, and deputy director of the Health Policy and Regulation Administration from 2003 to 2008. Prior to joining the Community Health Department, he served as the director of the Office of Budget Development and General Government within the State Budget Office and the finance officer for the Department of Attorney General. He holds a bachelor’s degree in economics and political science from Yale University.

“Nick is a longtime member of the intellectual leadership of the state of Michigan government,” Mallett said. “He is deeply knowledgeable of the inner workings of CMS (the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services), and the relationship the federal government has with the state.

“The transition between Jim and Nick will be extremely smooth.”

KBouffard@detroitnews.com