Alison Beam, who was a top staffer for Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf before taking over the state Health Department in January 2021, will be hired as the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center’s next vice president of government affairs, the health care giant announced on Feb. 17.
“It is an honor to take on this role, as I have experienced first-hand UPMC’s firm commitment to serving the community and advocating for optimal health care for citizens of the state and beyond,” Beam said in a statement. She left state employment last December.
In a statement, Wolf administration spokesperson Elizabeth Rementer added that Beam “was a tremendous asset to the Wolf Administration and we wish her well in her future endeavors.”
Beam also served as a top staffer in the state insurance department under former Republican Gov. Tom Corbett, and a policy analyst for Philadelphia-based insurance company Independence Blue Cross.
With the new gig, Beam will enter the employ of Pennsylvania’s largest private employer with vast interests, from health care policy to millions of dollars in government contracts, at stake in Harrisburg. The hospital chain spent at least $474,000 lobbying lawmakers last year, according to Department of State records.
Beam’s hire raised eyebrows among good government advocates, who highlighted it as a prime example of the so-called “revolving door” between public service and the private sector.
Michael Pollack, of the good government group March on Harrisburg, argued that back-and-forth employment erodes trust in government, and creates questions about officials’ incentives when they make important decisions.
“To have something as lucrative as a high-paying lobbying job hanging over your head is a corrupting influence,” he said.
The state’s ethics law states that public officials cannot lobby “before the governmental body with which he has been associated” for one year after leaving office.
In practice, this is interpreted narrowly, state Ethics Commission Executive Director Robert Caruso said. The law only prevents former public servants from interacting directly with the agency they just left, not the government as a whole.
The law “wouldn’t limit a Department of Health official going before [the Department of] General Services,” Caruso said. This provision also allows for former members of the state House to lobby the state Senate immediately after retirement, or vice versa. Then, once the year is up, the former officials can also interact with their old department or chamber.
One other group that worked closely with Beam struck a more conciliatory note about her new job. In a statement, Service Employees International Union Healthcare Pennsylvania president Matt Yarnell said that UPMC has “an immense role and responsibility to ensure we have an equitable healthcare system.”
“As Acting Secretary of Health, Alison Beam worked closely with our union to ensure that frontline caregivers always have a seat at the table, and we encourage her to bring that same focus on collaboration to UPMC,” Yarnell added. “We trust that Alison will bring a fresh perspective to UPMC’s leadership that values and recognizes the voice of workers — starting with respecting workers’ right to unionize.”
Beam isn’t alone in finding new employment after serving under the now term-limited Wolf. A wave of top staffers and cabinet officials have left the Wolf administration in recent months as the second term governor’s tenure has wound down.
For instance, Wolf’s former Chief of Staff Mike Brunelle left the administration in July 2021 to take a lobbying job with e-commerce giant Amazon. He has since left Amazon, according to his LinkedIn page, and now has a job in Harrisburg with the Reading-based law firm of Stevens & Lee.
The career moves have left advocates like Pollack disappointed, given Wolf’s promises of transparency and good government.
One of Wolf’s first official acts as governor was to ban executive branch employees from taking any gift, gratuity, favor or hospitality. March on Harrisburg has tried to prod legislators to pass a similar policy for themselves, to no avail.
“We’re happy he has a gift ban for his office, we want him to have a revolving door ban as well,” Pollack told the Capital-Star.
Stephen Caruso is a reporter for the Pennsylvania Capital-Star, where this story first appeared.