- Associated Press - Wednesday, September 24, 2014

BOSTON (AP) - Candidates for Massachusetts governor are each trying to position themselves as the best human services leader for the state, promising to better support those programs and the workers who help care for the neediest residents.

The four candidates who attended a forum Wednesday - Republican Charlie Baker, Democrat Martha Coakley, and independent candidates Evan Falchuk and Jeff McCormick - said those who provide human services should be paid better and the programs given a higher priority in state government.

Baker, who served as human services secretary under former Republican Gov. William Weld in the 1990s, said the state needs to take a hard look at the regulations around hiring and staffing to help retain the best qualified employees.

“There are great opportunities here to do great things for people,” he said. “You’ve got to step up and recognize that well-paid, qualified, experienced staff can do great things.”

Coakley, the state’s attorney general, said the question of how Massachusetts can help human service workers make ends meet is ultimately a question about the state’s core values.

“What we need to do is to address with our values the working people here who need a livable wage, who need to be able to afford their health care … who need to understand that we value their services,” she said.

Falchuk and McCormick said a fresh set of eyes is needed to revamp the way the state delivers those services.

Falchuk, who is running under the banner of the United Independent Party, said the state has some “serious re-thinking” to do about priorities. He said state lawmakers were willing to approve - and Gov. Deval Patrick quickly signed - a bill authorizing a $1 billion expansion of the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center at the same time many human service workers were holding two jobs just to pay their bills.

“Where’s the money?” Falchuk said. “It’s being spent in the wrong places.”

McCormick, a venture capitalist who founded the firm Saturn Partners in 1993, said another way to improve the delivery of services is to look at sharing best practices among provider agencies.

“Part of this is about the overall level of funding,” he said. “Another part of this is about the job itself.”

The forum at Boston’s Fanueil Hall was sponsored by the Providers’ Council, the state’s largest human service trade group.

During the event, Coakley responded to criticism by again defending her regulatory deal with Partners HealthCare, Massachusetts’ largest hospital and physicians’ network, saying that allowing its expansion will cut costs for consumers.

Earlier this month, the state’s Health Policy Commission released a report criticizing part of the agreement that dealt with Partner’s planned acquisition of Hallmark Health Systems, which owns Lawrence Memorial Hospital in Medford and Melrose-Wakefield Hospital. Coakley has said her office will renegotiate that part of the agreement.

“It is going to cut costs and I do stand by that,” Coakley said of the deal.

Baker has also criticized the agreement as enormously complicated and difficult to enforce.

Independent candidate Scott Lively, who didn’t attend the forum, is also running for governor in the Nov. 4 election.

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