Martha Coakley answered Globe questions on Deval Patrick and the management of state government.
What has been Deval Patrick’s biggest accomplishment as governor?
Governor Patrick came into office, as I did, as Massachusetts was being hit by a global economic recession, and his strategic investments in education, innovation, and infrastructure helped Massachusetts weather that recession and recover stronger than before. Today, Massachusetts has more jobs than ever before, our unemployment rate is below the national average, and we lead the nation in student achievement, health care coverage, clean energy, life sciences, biotech, veterans’ services, and more, and Governor Patrick deserves a tremendous amount of credit for those achievements.
What has been Deval Patrick’s biggest shortcoming as governor?
I have spent over two decades working to protect children, and I believe the current structure of Department of Children and Families creates an almost impossible mandate for the social workers who must balance keeping families together with the safety of the child. I’ve witnessed this because of my career protecting children, under both Democratic and Republican governors — but it’s something that needs to be changed. That’s why I have proposed creating a separate Child Protection Division within DCF that will be charged with investigating allegations of child abuse with the sole purpose of ensuring the safety of the child.
The Department of Public Health has weathered several controversies in recent years regarding lax oversight of compounding pharmacies, lapses at the state drug lab, and a bumpy rollout of the medical marijuana law. What changes would you make at the Department of Public Health?
We must improve oversight and management protocols, so problems are less likely to go unseen and unpredicted. These agencies must have clear missions, and diverse, experienced, and expert staff. From my work as district attorney and attorney general, I understand the importance of hiring individuals with the appropriate skills and judgment, and holding those individuals accountable.
Several of the recent controversies revealed weaknesses in the state’s record-keeping and technological capabilities. What changes would you make to improve technology throughout state government?
Massachusetts is a global hub for innovation, and state government should be reflective of that. When I came in as AG, one of my first priorities was to upgrade the attorney general’s office’s IT systems, start a cybercrime unit, and work with the private sector to bring the office’s IT capabilities and expertise in line with that of the private sector’s. We need to expand that to all of state government, we must dramatically upgrade the Commonwealth’s technology and IT capabilities to be both more responsive to citizens and make government more efficient.
The DPH controversies also revealed a breakdown in communication among various divisions of the massive agency and a lack of transparency in the way the department operates. How would you address this?
I believe we must sharpen and focus the mission of our agencies — especially when dealing with our most vulnerable children and public health — to increase communication and ensure that no agency works in a silo. Our agencies that provide services for our families must work together so that no one is being left behind and we are putting the real people impacted by these services first.
The commissioner of the Department of Children and Families resigned earlier this year after the agency lost track of a young boy who was later found dead. What changes need to be made at the Department of Children and Families to better protect vulnerable children?
I have spent over two decades working to protect children, and I believe the current structure of DCF creates an almost impossible mandate for the social workers who must balance keeping families together with the safety of the child. That’s why I have proposed creating a separate Child Protection Division within DCF that will be charged with investigating allegations of child abuse with the sole purpose of ensuring the safety of the child.
The commissioner of the Department of Correction resigned earlier this year after reports surfaced that a patient had died in restraints at Bridgewater State Hospital, a prison for the mentally ill. What must be done to improve psychiatric services within the Department of Correction?
The mental and behavioral health system in Massachusetts is broken, and I have proposed a comprehensive plan to increase access to mental and behavioral health services and reduce the stigma associated with mental illness. My plan will empower those struggling with mental illness and other behavioral health problems, support families, and build capacity, so that person-centered, recovery-oriented services are available to everyone in Massachusetts in need. Part of my plan will create a separate mental health facility to evaluate and treat mentally ill people charged with a crime, instead of the current system which commits them to Bridgewater State Hospital. I also believe that we must keep Taunton State Hospital open because right now we need more beds, not less.