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.


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  • justiceforall Jan 13, 2012

    Watch, a big controversy is coming.

  • unc70 Jan 13, 2012

    This IT project is costing more and taking longer, but is doing a lot more while dealing with drastic changes in NC and US laws, funding, etc. A lot of details, a lot of rules (some conflicting), privacy, security, fraud detection, integrated with vast array of other systems -- Fed, state, local, health care, employment, nursing homes, hospitals, schools, you name it. It must be ready when new laws take effect this year, including Health Care Reform.

    Cansler, a Republican, an accountant, is not likely one to waste money. AFIN I have never met him. Curious why he is leaving. Probably tired of constant attack from fellow Repubs, running a department that delivers crucial services to nearly every family in NC, while trying to do something stupid, ignorant, or harmful.

    Renewing the sales tax was the smartest way, but not possible. Many GA actions are for political gain, not what is best for our people. Underfund DHHS and make Perdue take the blame for who gets hurt.

  • oldaltar Jan 13, 2012

    I worked both for the state and in private sector, however I got paid more in the private sector with better benefits and performance raises.

  • Maybe Next Time Michele Jan 13, 2012

    Let's keep this post filled with a Republican. Slot Nelson Dollar into it. He's the one that said "oopsy" recently to his budgeting debacle.

  • storchheim Jan 13, 2012

    Not only do they pretend to work, they spend more time gossiping, wasting the time of those who do want to work, tearing each other down, creating spiteful discontent just to enjoy the reaction, tattling, and literally shouting at those by whom they feel threatened.

    And they're all out the door at 4:30 on the dot!

  • judithfergerson Jan 13, 2012

    This is so funny because many of those that work at a state job could not make it in the private sector mainly because those people in the private sector don't just push paperwork around on their desk pretending to work- to really do work.

  • boneymaroney13 Jan 13, 2012

    If they are smart they will all jump ship before the election.

  • westernwake1 Jan 13, 2012

    So shortly after an audit critical of the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services comes out, Lanier M. Cansler is gone.

    I think the state needs to carefully investigate the connections betweeen officals in the Department of Health and Human Services and Computer Sciences Corp. - in the view of the huge cost overruns in Medicaid Management Information System project.

    Special attention should be paid to any "lobbying" payments made from people & entities associated with CSC to anyone in state government.

  • disgusted2010 Jan 13, 2012

    Which Howard Lee crony will get this job?

  • westernwake1 Jan 13, 2012

    Considering what a huge failure the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services is - with botched IT projects, administrative fiascos, and huge cost overruns - this resignation is completely understandable.

    It should have occurred much earlier.