When he took over as finance chief for the state Department of Community Health, Tim Connell assumed oversight of a $13 billion budget.
The agency administers Medicaid, a highly complicated, vital health program, as well as the benefits plan for state employees and teachers.
Connell didn’t have health care experience when he took the job. What he did have was years of state government financial work, including as president of the Georgia Student Finance Commission. He spent two years as director of the Governor’s Office of Planning and Budget, and also was deputy commissioner for the Georgia Department of Community Affairs for six years.
“The reason why I came to DCH was to apply a management approach’’ used in previous positions, Connell told GHN in a recent interview. He said his goal was to improve the overall accountability and effectiveness of the agency’s financial operation.
Connell, 65, is retiring at the end of June after more than 35 years of government service, with the past two at Community Health.
“Medicaid is certainly complicated,’’ he said. “It makes the work here interesting.”
Many see Connell’s tenure as a success.
“Tim Connell has served the state of Georgia with honor and distinction for over three decades,’’ Clyde Reese, the DCH commissioner, said in a statement.
“He has been an exemplary steward of taxpayer dollars,” Reese’s statement continued. “His tenure as chief financial officer of the Department of Community Health is a final chapter he can be proud of. Working in conjunction with the Governor’s Office of Planning and Budget, he has helped stabilize the complex finances of one of the largest agencies and budgets in Georgia state government. His retirement is well-earned and deserved, and I wish him the very best going forward.”
“Tim’s departure is a tremendous loss,’’ said Jimmy Lewis of HomeTown Health, an association of rural hospitals in Georgia. “He has been an outstanding asset for the state.”
DCH currently is involved in two financial disputes with the federal government. One has to do with federal officials’ demand that Georgia Medicaid return more than $240 million in payments made to nursing homes. The feds say those payments were not permitted under the program’s regulations, an assertion that Georgia disputes.
And a federal judge ruled in February that Georgia should receive a refund of $90 million of Medicaid funds that it mistakenly returned to the federal government, even though the state made its claim for the money after the two-year window to do so had expired.
Connell said he hopes both disputes will be resolved favorably for Georgia.
“I’m an optimist, but then again, we’re dealing with the federal government,’’ he said.
Looking back, Connell noted that he began his state government work decades ago as a young budget analyst. That was during the administration of the late George Busbee, who was governor from 1975 to 1983.
“It’s been an honor to have worked with DCH and Commissioner Reese, and work with a lot of fine folks both internally and externally,” Connell added.