A former dentistry professor says members of Gov. Matt Bevin’s administration pressured University of Kentucky officials to fire him after he wrote a critique of the governor’s plan to reshape the state’s Medicaid system.
Dr. Raynor Mullins, who worked at UK for more than 40 years, filed the suit in federal court against UK Healthcare Vice President Mark Birdwhistell, UK College of Dentistry Dean Stephanos Kyrkanides and an unknown member of Gov. Matt Bevin’s administration listed as “John Doe.”
Birdwhistell is also heading up Bevin’s efforts to reshape Kentucky’s Medicaid system by applying for an 1115 waiver — a process whereby the federal government allows a state to change how Medicaid is run within its borders.
Bevin’s proposal would require most able-bodied Medicaid recipients to pay monthly premiums and require them to prove they’re working, seeking work or doing community service.
The proposal would also eliminate vision and dental benefits as basic benefits provided under Medicaid.
Last year, Mullins and four other professors wrote a critique of Bevin’s application to the federal government asking for permission to tighten eligibility requirements for the state’s Medicaid system.
In the lawsuit, Mullins alleges that Kyrkanides sought his termination because of the public comments submitted in opposition to Bevin’s waiver application.
Mullins alleges that Kyrkanides advised him to go “off the radar” and “keep a low profile”— statements which Mullins says were intended “for the purpose of controlling, manipulating, and silencing Dr. Mullins, while Defendant determined how to end Dr. Mullins’ faculty appointment.”
“Defendant Kyrkanides told Dr. Mullins that it was a very bad strategy ‘to piss the Governor off,’ and that Dr. Mullins’ public comments had indeed ‘pissed off’ the Governor,” Mullins’ lawyer wrote in the complaint.
Mullins also said that Kyrkanides warned him that “these threats flowed form the Governor’s office.”
“Defendant Kyrkanides also cautioned Dr. Mullins that as a state employee, ‘we all work for the Governor,’ and threateningly told Dr. Mullins that Governor Bevin is ultimately Dr. Mullins’ ‘boss.’”
A request for comment from Kyrkanides was not immediately returned on Wednesday.
Mullins was notified in January that his position would not be renewed by the College of Dentistry and that his job would be terminated at the end of the month.
“Upon information and belief, later in July, 2016, Governor Bevin and/or officials in his administration, including John Doe, communicated their displeasure with Dr. Mullins’ public comments to Defendant Birdwhistell, and pressured Defendant Birdwhistell to retaliate against Dr. Mullins and the UK College of Dentistry.
Mullins has a long history at UK — he served as the chair of the UK Department of Community Dentistry from 1974-1988, head of the department’s education program from 1988-1994 and chief of the College of Dentistry’s public health division from 1994-2004.
As part of Bevin’s application for a Medicaid waiver, the administration held a public comment period for Kentuckians to weigh in on the proposal.
Mullins’ lawsuit also alleges that “Gov. Bevin and/or his agents improperly tampered with a legally required federal and state public Medicaid waiver process.”
Amanda Stamper, communications director for Bevin, denied Mullins’ accusations in a statement.
“Neither Governor Bevin, nor anybody else in the Governor’s office, knows the plaintiff or has any knowledge about the allegations detailed in the media’s coverage of this case,” Stamper said. “We doubt it’s a coincidence that both the plaintiff and his lawyer are political donors and supporters of Steve and Andy Beshear.”
Mullins contributed $250 to former Gov. Steve Beshear’s re-election campaign in 2011 and his attorney Joe Childers donated $2,100 between the 2008 and 2012 elections. Childers also donated $1,000 to Attorney General Andy Beshear’s 2015 run for office.
Bevin, a Republican, and Beshear, a Democrat have been locked in a prolonged fight since the two took office.