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Dr. Why?

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There is indeed a doctor in the house, and he’s causing unrest. Gov. Brian Schweitzer’s appointment of Dr. Robert Wynia as director of the Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services has raised the ire of some Democrats, who have publicly questioned Wynia’s past support of health-care privatization and former affiliations with groups opposed to the expansion of health care for uninsured citizens.

Physician and former legislator Mary Anne Guggenheim, who serves on four MDPHHS advisory boards, says she was “surprised and disappointed in the appointment.”

While Wynia may be a good physician, she says, he lacks a history with the department that she believes is an essential training ground for managing an organization as large and complex as MDPHHS.

“That agency is larger than anything most people have managed,” counters Sarah Elliott, the governor’s communications director. With a $2 billion budget, the MDPHHS is the state’s largest agency.

Wynia distinguished himself for the appointment, Elliott says, with his strong support for preventive health care and his years of experience. Wynia, 72, received his medical degree from the University of Washington in 1958.

“He’s had a lot of leadership roles in the medical community,” Elliot says.

In the final analysis, the biggest strike against Wynia may be his party affiliation.

Wynia served as president of the Montana Medical Association (MMA) in 2001, and the MMA’s Brian Zins can’t think of any reason for opposition to the appointment “outside of the fact that he’s a Republican.”

Wynia himself was unavailable to speak with the Independent by deadline. In addition to a lengthy list of professional activities, Wynia’s resumé lists hobbies including “Music (organ, piano, accordion, banjo, guitar, sing folk music, bagpipes).” His non-medical experience includes work “as a ‘roughneck’” on an oil rig in 1951.

MDPHHS’s public information officer Gayle Shirley says Wynia is already hard at work.

“He’s plunged right in and so far seems to be working fine,” she says.

At the time, however, it was just day two of the doctor’s tenure, and there were details to attend to.

“The poor guy has to find out where to park and where the bathrooms are,” Shirley said.

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