Lawmakers demand answers from DHHS chief

Posted September 11, 2013

— Members of the Legislative Black Caucus said Wednesday that they are fed up with problems at the state Department of Health and Human Services and want some answers from Secretary Aldona Wos.

The group said they chose the 9/11 anniversary for a news conference because it has become a national day of service, and they said the best public service they can provide is to ensure DHHS is working properly for North Carolina residents.

Lawmakers cited reports of large raises given to former staffers of Gov. Pat McCrory's campaign who now work at DHHS, hefty salaries pulled in by Republican insiders who work as consultants to the agency and continued problems plaguing computer systems that provide food stamp benefits to needy families and process Medicaid claims and reimburse health care providers.

"Enough is enough," said Rep. Garland Pierce, D-Scotland.

Pierce, chairman of the Legislative Black Caucus, said the group has sent a six-page letter to McCrory and Wos to answer their concerns. The letter includes more than 30 questions on various topics.

Sen. Floyd McKissick, D-Durham, said he was frustrated that Wos decided to defend paying a man who works for her husband more than $200,000 over six months for consulting services by sending an email to only 17 lawmakers – all but one are Republicans – instead of addressing all 170 members of the General Assembly.

"That's a matter of integrity. That's a matter of credibility," McKissick said, saying placing GOP operatives in plum positions smacks of the pay-to-play politics that Republicans have criticized for years.

DHHS spokesman Ricky Diaz said criticism over hiring and pay is largely unfounded.

"She had to very quickly bring in experts," Diaz said of Wos, "and we're very proud of the fact that, overall, DHHS' base payroll is $23 million less than it was one year ago."

Department of Health and Human Services, DHHS generic DHHS says some criticism understandable, some unwarranted

Legislative Black Caucus Legislative Black Caucus talks DHHS

"Cost savings are fine, but the duty is to provide the services to the people of North Carolina, and that's not happening," House Minority Leader Larry Hall said.

Hall, D-Durham, said the McCrory administration has turned DHHS into a "private pocketbook for them to dip into for friends and former campaign workers."

Last month, he asked for a legislative investigation into the salaries issue during the recent special session of the General Assembly, but the Republican leadership never scheduled any oversight committee hearings and Wos never responded to his request.

"The department appears to be in somewhat of a shambles," Hall said Wednesday. "We want to know what's the plan going forward. When can we expect the return on the investment and the expenditures?"

Beyond the big money for friends of Wos and McCrory, Sen. Earline Parmon, D-Forsyth, said she is most troubled by the fact that many North Carolina families are going hungry because DHHS managers haven't addressed problems with the NC FAST benefits system. Likewise, she said, problems with the NCTracks system are forcing some small health care firms to shut down because they aren't getting paid for Medicaid services they have provided.

"Our citizens are suffering," Parmon said. "We've had too many press releases, too many telephone calls and too many press conferences. It's time for action."

Diaz said the administration inherited significant issues, such as outdated systems and information technology projects that were way over budget.

"I understand why there's criticism because we're taking on some of the biggest challenges in state government," he said. "The department was absolutely a mess coming in."

Republican Senate leader Phil Berger pledged last week to work with Democrats on problems plaguing the computer systems.


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  • Rebelyell55 Sep 16, 2013

    Too bad the screaming won't done years ago, when our state Auditor reported the abuse and waste.

  • lwe1967 Sep 12, 2013

    They have a new system that is not working correctly. It should be, but it is not. Instead of the finger pointing, they probably could use some expertise on how to correct the problem and get the people needing help get it. Quit whining and find the solution.

  • miseem Sep 12, 2013

    It does not excuse what has happened--but it is totally hypocritical to point fingers now.
    Click to view my profilejosephlawrence43.

    So, we should just ignore it? If I recall, a lot of news was pushed about Mary Easley. Got a couple of high profile "resignations". But I keep hearing from the right wing that we should just forget about what's happened over the last 8 months. At least Easley had some qualifications for her position. More than I can say for some of the actions by the GOP recently.

  • goldenosprey Sep 12, 2013

    Our rightie true believers are silent as the grave on this one. Curious.

  • uncgirl_2010 Sep 12, 2013

    Pleased to see that some legislators actually care. I'm curious to see if the answers this group desires are actually answered. The folks at the top are piad VERY high salaries while those of us who work in the trenches wonder how we are going to buy gas to get back and forth to work, doing the job of the people. We eat instant oatmeal for lunch and cereal or soup or NOTHING for supper, we don't buy new clothes, drive fancy cars, live in McMansions or have large families that we can't support. We work hard in order to pay bills. Our paychecks are Direct Deposited and gone before the money gets warm in opur accounts. While "friends" of the Gov get pay raises more than I make in an entire year, we sit back busting our rear ends to do the job of three people. There's the answer to why your budget is 23 million less this year. Vacant positions aren't being filled, yet the must still be done. I may get fired for these comments, but I'm sick and tired of being degraded by the Gov, called a "

  • free2bme Sep 12, 2013

    Diaz is one of Wos's over paid seat warmers. He does not know what is going on with DHHS, he has not been there long enough to know anything. All he can think to do is play the blame game. DHHS has never had the amount of problems it is having now under Wos. What a disaster. These people are incompetent and if they worked anywhere else would likely be fired already.

  • SARCASTICLES Sep 12, 2013

    Good luck in 2072, NCGOP.

  • Krimson Sep 12, 2013

    "it is totally hypocritical to point fingers now."

    says the person pointing fingers at the previous administration...

  • goldenosprey Sep 12, 2013

    "just think how much less their financial footprint would be if they got rid of all the crooks in DHHS and if McCrorys cronies were to lose their jobs or take a cut in pay down to what they are really worth." scubagirl

    Inexperienced political hacks are exempted from the core philosophy of "fiscal conservatism" the repubs love to blather about.

  • Scubagirl Sep 12, 2013

    just think how much less their financial footprint would be if they got rid of all the crooks in DHHS and if McCrorys cronies were to lose their jobs or take a cut in pay down to what they are really worth.