After 45 years of state service, Gov. Brian Sandoval’s former chief of staff Mike Willden is taking a job as a consultant to the Nevada System of Higher Education.
The contract, which is effective for one year, pays $100 an hour up to a maximum of $150,000 a year. Willden signed it on Wednesday.
Willden’s career has ranged from time as a landscaper at a juvenile correctional center to a welfare caseworker in Southern Nevada to head of the Department of Health and Human Services and the top staff role for Sandoval. He played a major role in welfare reform implementation during past administrations and, more recently, in Nevada’s Medicaid expansion.
As a consultant to the higher education system, Willden’s job will include advising the medical and dental schools on how to maximize their reimbursements from Medicaid and other state and federal programs, reviewing and advising on workforce development programs between the state and Nevada colleges and advising on how to improve Graduate Medical Education programs, including residency and loan repayment programs.
Sandoval expanded Graduate Medical Education programs while Willden was his top aide.
Willden’s other tasks will include consulting on how to expand research contracts between the state and the colleges, and monitoring planning and funding for major capital improvement projects such as the UNLV School of Medicine building and the CSN Health Sciences Building.
University researchers have helped assess the success of state programs. UNLV’s Center for Research, Evaluation, and Assessment was part of a team that evaluated the efficacy of Sandoval’s targeted education initiatives, for example.
Reached by phone, Willden said he’s most excited about opportunities to expand research partnerships, especially on welfare programs and problem gambling (Gov. Steve Sisolak has tripled funding to address problem gambling in his budget proposal, from $1.3 million to $4.6 million a year). Willden said there’s plenty of national data but often a shortage of Nevada-specific research, and the universities can help fill the gap in an effort to improve Nevadans’ health outcomes.
Willden’s base pay as chief of staff to Sandoval was about $128,000 in 2017, according to Transparent Nevada. In a recent interview reflecting on his state service, Willden told The Nevada Independent he wasn’t ready to quit working even after retiring earlier this month.