Gov. McCrory defends state health secretary

lbonner@newsobserver.comSeptember 18, 2013 

— Gov. Pat McCrory said he had full confidence in state health agency leader Aldona Wos despite hiring decisions that have drawn calls for investigations and an audit.

Wos and other cabinet secretaries are responsible for hiring in their agencies, McCrory told reporters Wednesday, and he cannot micromanage agency personnel decisions from his office.

“I’ve given them instructions to make the best hires possible within the rules and procedures and guidelines,” he said. “They accomplish that and they continue to accomplish that. That’s why I have confidence in each of those secretaries, including Dr. Aldona Wos.”

DHHS has hired a string of political donors and operatives to high-paying jobs at the agency. The latest is Margaret Peal, who is being paid $95,000 to work on new ways for the state to run Medicaid. Peal had not worked in health care since 2002, but was a McCrory donor and an early organizer of the Eastern North Carolina Tea Party. McCrory said he was not involved in Peal’s hiring, but he was worried about intrusions into appointees’ private lives by “political operatives and others.”

The News & Observer checked Peal’s background after DHHS refused to provide a job description, a list of her duties, or her resume. Government employee salaries and government contracts are public records.

Wos has not responded to requests for interviews, but McCrory said she is a smart person who is “surrounding herself with other skilled people to help her in the operational issues.”

Among Wos’ top advisers is 24-year-old Matt McKillip, who worked on McCrory’s campaign and is making $87,500 a year at the agency. Wos also hired a vice president from her husband’s company under a contract that has already paid him more than $228,000 for eight months of work as her senior adviser. The advisor, Joe Hauck, has the potential to earn $310,000 before his contract expires in November. Former state Auditor Les Merritt, a Wake County Republican, has a department contract that will pay him up to $312,000 a year.

In February, Wos’ first choice to lead the children’s division resigned before her first day of work over questions about her commitment to the types of early childhood programs she would have overseen in her $110,000 a year job. The appointee, Dianna Lightfoot, had also posted some controversial positions on the Internet, including one where she referred to vaccination as “government intervention.”

As McCrory was defending Wos, leading Democrats in the legislature called on state Auditor Beth Wood to do a complete audit of DHHS that would include investigations of hiring decisions and problematic computer systems.

“Taxpayers are rapidly losing confidence in Secretary Wos and the Department of Health and Human Services,” House Minority Leader Larry Hall said in a statement. “State government must be open, transparent and accountable. DHHS is failing these goals daily. As a result, we are calling for a comprehensive audit into DHHS to provide the information necessary to ensure that folks are getting the services they need, that healthcare providers are getting paid on time, and that taxpayers are getting maximum value from state government spending.”

Republican legislators have so far rebuffed calls for a special committee to investigate salaries within the agency.

The department is one of the state’s largest agencies and has wide responsibilities. In addition to personnel and pay decisions, the agency has been under fire in recent months for late payments to health care providers who treat Medicaid patients, and to needy people who depend on food stamps.

The agency is also working under a deadline to come up with a plan to change Medicaid. The department is supposed to have a proposal to the legislature by early next year. Wos and state Medicaid Director Carol Steckel have been pitching a plan that would open the state’s Medicaid program to operation by private companies.

But McCrory indicated Wednesday that hiring managed care companies to run Medicaid is not a sure thing.

“We’re looking at all options,” he said. “It would be too early for me to tell what exactly (is) the conclusion we’ll come up with.”

Bonner: 919-829-4821

News & Observer is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service