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Q&A with: Mike Hansen

By Christine Jordan Sexton, 01/06/2012 – 02:48 PM
Agency for Persons with Disabilities Director Mike Hanson. Photo Credit: Ana Goni-Lessan
Agency for Persons with Disabilities Director Mike Hanson. Photo Credit: Ana Goni-Lessan

Mike Hansen is the recently appointed director for the Agency for Persons with Disabilities.

An avid runner, Hansen, 59, worked in Miami-Dade County in the 1970s in the former Department of Health and Rehabilitative Services. He also worked at state agencies in Tallahassee before moving to the Legislature and then into the governor’s Office of Planning and Budgetingunder former Gov. Jeb Bush. Before being tapped by Gov. Rick Scott to lead APD, Hansen was theSenate Health and Human Services budget director. About 30,000 clients are served by APD Medicaid programs and Hansen — who has been at APD since the summer — says he has a spreadsheet in his office detailing who the clients are and the services they get. He looks at it regularly. He appears before the Senate Children, Families and Elder Affairs Committee this Thursday for a confirmation hearing.
You went from Senate staff director for the Health and Human Services budget to director of the Agency for Persons with Disabilities. How did that occur?

“I was approached over a period of time. It wasn’t a one-time deal.  People started talking to me from the governor’s office and started asking me questions. It was over a several months period of time which started during the session.  Of course in the position I was in, I did not want to really entertain an employment opportunity that could be construed that I made some decision in my previous job that would impact my decision. So the initial response was ‘I am not going to be interested in talking about this.’ Of course I was able to think about it over that period of time . …. In my line of work your position is good the day you are in it. You never know what tomorrow is going to bring. I am never in the habit of saying to someone ‘I would never consider doing that’ because who knows where you are going to be tomorrow? Who knows what you are going to have to deal with the next day? Who knows what the situation is going to be? As time went on, I had more time to think about it and the offer was very generous, very kind. It was ‘We need you to help us figure out how to make this agency work better.’ ”

Given the fact that the program is bigger than the appropriation — it’s a $900 million program with an $810 million budget — and it’s been bedeviled by budget crises, were you concerned about taking the position?

“Well, I did talk to the governor about that and basically said, ‘If you are going to evaluate me at the end of the first year as having brought the agency’s budget in line with the appropriation, I don’t feel like I can achieve that goal. So if that is your expectation, I am not the right guy for this job.’ I think I can make strides, I think I can move in the right direction, but I think it’s going to take longer than 12 months and I think there’s a lot of legwork that has to be done to figure out exactly what it would take to get there. If getting to that number means jeopardizing the health and safety of our clients, I’m not interested in getting to that number, and I know the governor is not interested in getting to that number, and I don’t think the Legislature is interested in getting to that number if that’s what it means.

“But there is a belief out there that money is being spent in a way that it can be more wisely spent and that is clearly my belief as well. We can do a better job of utilizing these resources. And that is what we are about trying to do and trying to figure out how we do that. If they

[the Scott administration] had told me to come in here and balance this budget no matter what, I would have told them, ‘I’m not interested,’ because I don’t think it can be done and it’s not the right thing to do. But that’s not what they asked me to do. They asked me to try to do the best job I could in figuring out are we using these resources as wisely as they can be used. And I’m certainly agreeable to do that and that’s exactly what we’re trying to do.”

To that end, the agency has taken a look at “core services.” What are core services? It has been somewhat controversial because core services differ from person to person. Where does this plan stand right now? 

“Obviously it has generated a lot of controversy — the notion of core services —  and we are planning to move away from core services because I think it was misconstrued. I think what our intention was, and how it was viewed, were two different things. And I don’t think that concept is a useful concept to move forward, so we are going to discontinue the use of the term.”

Will you discontinue the use of the term but move on with the idea?

“Well, the idea is we have to find a way to correct budgets for ‘extraordinary need,’ that’s the term used in the statute. We are trying to figure out a way of coming up with a proxy for people who have extraordinary needs. That’s what we are looking at trying to figure out. But the distinction I think you have to make is, it’s one thing to determine the amount of money someone needs to meet their extraordinary needs. It’s another thing to say, ‘These are core services and these are the only serves you can have access to.’ We never were saying that and we are not saying that now, but I think the use of the term led people to believe we were saying that.

“We are moving forward with a definition of ‘extraordinary need.’ We are trying to quantify that definition, but we don’t want people to get confused between the notion of extraordinary need and limits on how they can spend their cost plan. Our clients are only going to benefit from the concept of extraordinary need. No one is harmed. People are only benefitted by that, and that’s what I’ll hope they will understand.  The idea is we want to make sure people have a safe place to live.”

One month ago you said the approximate price tag of the ibudget (APD’s new system of budgeting that gives clients a set allocation of money but with more flexibility on how to spend it) with the algorithm is about $870 million. Has that number changed?

“No, I think it is about that number. It would cost us a lot less than that if we decided we don’t want to care of ‘extraordinary needs.’ ”

Are you asking the Legislature to change the mission statement of this agency to bring it more in line with your appropriations?

Well, some bills are going to be filed. Until a bill is filed it’s not a public record so I don’t want to speak. I think, and you’ve heard me testify, that there may be some incongruence between [APD’s mission statement] and the actual amount of the appropriation. I think there could be some tweaking to clarify those points.”

Are you a cattle rancher?

“I am a person who enjoys living in the country. Growing up I lived in all the big cities in the Northeast but my preference is the country. So I live now on 52 acres in Wakulla County and I’ve got some cattle. I used to have some hogs. I have chickens. I enjoy that life. I also grow a lot of trees. So that’s the other side of me. The non-work side of me. I’m like [President] George Bush 43. On my days off or my vacations, I’m out there working in the woods, clearing brush, building fences. Then there’s the other side of me, the reason I’m in Florida is I love the water. I have boats and my other passion is fishing, spear fishing and cast netting. So those are the things I do when i’m not doing this. It’s a nice contrast.”

Reporter Christine Jordan Sexton can be reached at csexton@thefloridacurrent.com.

Reporter Travis Pillow contributed to this story. Travis Pillow can be reached at tpillow@thefloridacurrent.com