Raleigh, N.C. — Secretary of Health and Human Services Aldona Wos told lawmakers Wednesday that she walked into a department in disarray and is trying to clean up the mess as quickly as she can, adding that it will take time.
Speaking to a Joint Appropriations Committee, Wos and several of her assistants outlined problems they face, from outdated computer systems to key positions being unfilled to staff members consistently filing late reports.
"Things are really broken, but we are in the process and on the path to fixing it," Wos said.
Medicaid reform and upgrading information technology at DHHS are her top two priorities, she said.
A state audit released last month found that administrative costs for North Carolina's Medicaid program are much higher than other states' because of mismanagement and lax oversight.
"We will not have another audit report like we did two weeks ago," said Carol Steckel, whom Wos brought in from Louisiana to oversee Medicaid.
Joe Cooper, who is DHHS' new chief information officer, said he has already consolidated three IT units and plans to look at other ways to streamline and upgrade systems. He promised lawmakers that a new Medicaid billing system would go online in July as scheduled.
More than half of DHHS' deputy secretary positions and 20 physician slots in the department are vacant, and Wos said she's looking for qualified people. She said she also is cracking down on employees for turning in late, often incomprehensible reports.
She didn't comment on Dianna Lightfoot, who withdrew last week after being appointed to direct state pre-kindergarten programs. Questions were raised about Lightfoot's background as founder of a nonprofit that opposes public early childhood education programs.
Wos hasn't responded to questions about how she vetted Lightfoot, and she dodged reporters after the committee meeting, making a swift exit down the back stairs.