Under the Dome

Dome: Nesbitt calls for probe of DHHS 'systemic mismanagement'

August 27, 2013 

Senate Minority Leader Martin Nesbitt wants a Senate committee to probe “systemic mismanagement” at the state Department of Health and Human Services, including the agency’s hiring practices and the flawed Medicaid claims system it oversees.

Nesbitt, an Asheville Democrat, asked Senate leader Phil Berger in a letter to call a meeting of the Senate Health Care Committee. This follows a request last week from House Minority Leader Larry Hall, a Durham Democrat, to have a House committee meet next week to talk about staff pay at the agency.

N.C. Policy Watch first reported two weeks ago that two 24-year-old DHHS staffers, Ricky Diaz, department spokesman, and Matt McKillip, chief policy adviser, make $85,000 and $87,500. News about DHHS salaries and raises snowballed from there. On Saturday, The News & Observer reported that several new high-paying positions were created at DHHS and that some top administrators were being paid more than the people they replaced.

“For the past several weeks, I have grown increasingly concerned by reports of significant irregularities in hiring and vetting processes and salary structure at the Department of Health and Human Services,” Nesbitt wrote. “But even more troubling are recent complaints of delinquent Medicaid reimbursement payments from DHHS, affecting the livelihood of healthcare providers across North Carolina.

“Taken together, these reports indicate systemic mismanagement at DHHS and I believe the North Carolina Senate has a responsibility to taxpayers, patients and healthcare providers to seek answers from Governor (Pat) McCrory and DHHS Secretary (Aldona) Wos.”

DHHS can be counted on to make a heated defense of the Medicaid claims system it calls NC Tracks (a recent press release had the headline “NCTracks is On Track”), but some providers say they’ve had trouble getting paid for medical services.

Judge Ervin to run again

State appeals court Judge Sam Ervin IV – who fought an extremely expensive but unsuccessful campaign against incumbent N.C. Supreme Court Justice Paul Newby last year – announced Tuesday his candidacy for another seat on the Supreme Court.

The seat currently held by Justice Mark Martin is open, as Martin announced earlier this year that he will run to replace current Chief Justice Sarah Parker, who will reach mandatory retirement age next year.

Ervin, a registered Democrat, filed paperwork Tuesday creating his campaign committee. Fellow appeals court Judge Robert N. Hunter Jr., a Republican, has announced he will also be a candidate for Martin’s vacant Supreme Court seat.

In announcing his candidacy, Ervin brought up the expensive campaign against Newby, in which outside groups spent more than $2.5 million to support the incumbent. The Brennan Center for Justice determined that race drew the second-highest spending by outside groups in the country in 2012.

Ervin, 57, lives in Morganton. He has been on the Court of Appeals since 2008.

Another Bob Hunter on the appeals court – this one a Democrat – has announced he will retire next year. Wake Superior Court Judge Lucy Inman is running for his seat.

Four of seven seats on the Supreme Court will be up for election next year, according to political analyst John N. Davis.

Holding calls for clear objective in Syria

U.S. Rep. George Holding said Tuesday that any military operation against Syria should have a clear objective and “must be an effective use of our military superiority and not merely carried out to adhere to ill-conceived and ill-defined ‘red-lines.’ ”

The line was a jab at President Barack Obama, who mentioned a red line a year ago. At the time, Obama said: “We have been very clear to the Assad regime, but also to other players on the ground, that a red line for us is we start seeing a whole bunch of chemical weapons moving around or being utilized. That would change my calculus. That would change my equation.”

Holding, a Raleigh Republican who is in his first term, issued a statement that said: “The Assad regime’s disregard for the lives of its own citizens is deeply troubling, and the attacks last week send a clear message that they will stop at nothing to hold onto power as long as possible.”

He added that if the U.S. is planning military action in Syria, Congress should return to Washington from its August recess.

“Should the president decide to move forward with an armed response to the atrocity in Damascus, members of Congress must be advised, consulted, and have the opportunity to weigh in, and I stand ready to return to Washington to do just that,” Holding said.

Staff writers Lynn Bonner, Craig Jarvis and Renee Schoof of McClatchy’s Washington Bureau

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