DHHS problems leave Wos apologetic, frustrated

Posted January 14, 2014

— State Health and Human Services Secretary Aldona Wos apologized to lawmakers Tuesday for an incident in which the department mailed Medicaid cards to the wrong families and expressed frustration with a backlog of food stamps cases. 

But under questioning from lawmakers, Wos said many of the department's high-profile problems were prompted by federal rules, especially requirements handed down as part of the Affordable Care Act.

"My expectation when it comes to the department is that we get things right 100 percent of the time," she told lawmakers. "When we do our job well, you probably never hear about it."

Lawmakers have been hearing a lot about troubles at the department over the past year, and 2014 started with a pair of troubling disclosures.

On New Year's Eve, state officials learned that nearly 49,000 Medicaid cards were mailed to the wrong families. State officials didn't disclose that incident to the public until three days later.

"It was unacceptable that this issue was not elevated to my office and senior leadership as soon as it was identified," Wos said.

Wos said the department had taken steps to avert any fraud and said no child went untreated as a result of the error.

DHHS Sec. Aldona Wos and Chief Compliance Officer Mark Payne Live blog of the DHHS committee hearing

After the new year, the department disclosed letters from the federal U.S. Department of Agriculture showing thousands of families had waited one to three months for their food stamps benefits.

Although initial estimates have been revised, the latest data available from the department show some 27,000 families may be part of this backlog.

Wos and her top lieutenants told lawmakers that some of that backlog was due to problems with the NC FAST system, a massive computer program meant to process applications for various government services. She said problems related to new eligibility requirements under the Affordable Care Act complicated processing issues.

Lawmakers said they were surprised to the disclosures.

"We were led to believe that, in terms of the NC FAST program, all the kinks had been worked out," said Sen. Floyd McKissick, D-Durham. "So, a December letter from the federal government that suggested families were waiting months for food stamps came as a surprise."

Wos apologized by saying the department had based its prior testimony on information that was current at the time.

Division of Social Services Director Wayne Black said that the backlog may not be as bad as the numbers show.

"As many as half of those numbers we're reporting to the USDA may be of folks who have a duplicate of another application pending," he said.

Black also argued that the federal government counted some applications as "untimely" but that those families may be receiving benefits.

Republicans and Democrats on the committee seemed frustrated with the sometimes conflicting information coming from the department. Rep. Marilyn Avila, R-Wake, asked for a timeline detailing the state's dealings with the federal government.

Wos, for her part, kept a cool demeanor, breaking character only once when she again blamed technical problems on the Affordable Care Act.

"The deadlines have shifted and changed at the last minute because of the implementation of the ACA," she said, catching her breath with an audible gasp.

Those shifting deadlines, she said, have been one of the department's biggest problems.

Sen. Martin Nesbitt, D-Buncombe, told Wos he understood the department was difficult to manage but that problems have to be fixed.

"In the meantime, our people are getting crushed out here," Nesbitt said of low-income benefit recipients.


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  • Phred Phlintstone Jan 16, 2014

    If Mr. McCrory does not remove this inept and ill-qualified person from office she is going to bring him down. Would her businessman husband tolerate these shenanigans in his own company?

  • sixnitepkg Jan 16, 2014

    the only thing it SHOULD leave her is....UNEMPLOYED! then let her see how she likes her beloved GOP's refusal of unemployment benefits!

  • ncflynhi2 Jan 15, 2014

    She has lied through out this whole mess. She has continued to make excuses and try to take the blame off the state office. Wake County will be hard launching NCFAST for Medicaid in the not to distant future and the system is already not working for food stamps so how will it work for Medicaid. Since last August when a worker calls the state office with a problem with NCFAST the tech that helps the worker explains how to work around the problem and to spread the word to other workers instead of the state putting the information in writing. This way the state does not put the problem resolution in writing so there is no evidence of the problem and the state can say they were not aware of the problem therefore it is the counties that are responsible. At this point after listening to all the information the state has come forward with I say lets impeach the governor, he is not doing his job and is ultimately responsible for this mess.

  • ILoveDowntownRaleigh Jan 15, 2014

    View quoted thread

    I am sympathetic to Secretary Wos's disastrous efforts to run DHHS effectively - we have all failed at different things in our lives.

    But seriously, just as in private industry (a comparison that neocons on this board love to make, even when it is not directly applicable) apologies just don't cut it for repeated epic failures, and they don't cut it now.

    It is a mystery as to why you have not resigned. And it is an even bigger mystery why Governor McCrory has not demanded your resignation. I am afraid this sends a very bad message about both of you, and more significantly, about the Republican party that you both represent.

  • mistervegas Jan 15, 2014

    Wos should resign or McCroy needs to fire her. She has demonstrated over and over again that she is not capable to manage her department.

  • rand321 Jan 15, 2014

    The taxpayers who were promised better adminstration and better services for lower tax dollars has been anything but that. She has led a department filled with overpriced, underqualified political favor handouts.....McCory needs to be held to account. He is ulimately in charge!

    Guv, where are you...baking cookies?

  • londonengland41 Jan 15, 2014

    She's frustrated? What about the people who are not getting what they need because of this. I am positive that those people are way more frustrated than she is. She needs to go.

  • SMAPAEA Jan 15, 2014

    This lady needs to step down or be fired. Wayne Black isn't winning my support either.

  • tllight Jan 15, 2014

    Quote from Wayne Black...." Division of Social Services Director Wayne Black said that the backlog may not be as bad as the numbers show.

    "As many as half of those numbers we're reporting to the USDA may be of folks who have a duplicate of another application pending," he said.

    What?? your computer system cannot produce a list by name, address, SS#, date/time stamp, benefits applied for and FLAG the electronic record when a manual paper application has been completed in person? And your system can't produce this report to all county entities on line- or hourly?
    If you had this report - you would know how many dups you have...sounds as if an Excel spreadsheet could do better than NCFAST....get some competent process design and coders in there for NC FAST...or scrap the system and go back to legacy systems.
    Wayne Black - explain to me why you can't do this??

  • reincarnatedasme Jan 15, 2014

    Mismanagement at its finest! Wos refuses to listen to advice and will not accept responsibility for her inaction. We are in serious need of a leader in DHHS and until McCrory wakes up and realizes his campaign people and donors are not the ones the DHHS will remain in dire straights. Wos should have been fired a long time ago. DHHS doesn't need a doctor in charge, but a proven leader who gets things accomplished without stepping on everybodies toes.