DHHS secretary to step down
Posted January 13, 2012
Lanier M. Cansler, who has been secretary of the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services since the beginning of the Perdue administration three years ago, is leaving to take a job in the private sector at the end of the month.
On Friday afternoon, Gov. Bev Perdue named her senior policy advisor Al Delia acting secretary of the department as of early February.
Cansler fought a never-ending battle for funding during his tenure, which coincided with the depths of recession in North Carolina. In October 2009, he called budget cuts imposed by the General Assembly "historic."
"The challenge we have is to try to maintain the level of services to the extent we can with the dollars we have available," he said.
As recently as October, he sent a letter to legislative leaders saying, "These will be devastating cuts to North Carolina's medical providers and to our citizens in need of these medical services." As Republican lawmakers battled Democrat Perdue over budget cuts last fall, Cansler often found himself at the epicenter of the political firefight.
Throughout his term, Cansler also dealt with allegations of neglect and abuse at the state's psychiatric hospitals. One of his first actions was to establish a zero-tolerance policy for patient abuse, yet in May 2010, an incident at Cherry Hospital prompted him to order intensive retraining for all employees of the Goldsboro facility.
Cansler's private sector work attracted controversy, too. From 2005 to 2008, his lobbying firm Cansler Fuquay Solutions represented a range of health-sector firms and associations.
Just days before his appointment to HHS in January 2009, one of his lobbying clients, Computer Sciences Corporation, won the state contract to upgrade the state's Medicaid claims processing system. That contract is currently almost 2 years behind schedule, and its cost has ballooned from $265 million to $495 million.
Critics have alleged conflict of interest in Cansler's oversight, a charge Cansler says is groundless. But a recent state audit said HHS had been lax in managing the contract, a finding Cansler also disputes.
But Cansler saw successes, too. He lauded the May 2009 passage of a ban on smoking in nearly all restaurants and bars across the state. In July, he saw the completion of an 80-bed, $4.3 million treatment center for alcohol and drug abuse in Butner.
Cansler, a native of Catawba County who moved to Asheville, is a certified public accountant who was elected to four terms in the state legislature representing the 51st House District as a Republican, before serving as deputy secretary of DHHS from 2001 to 2005.