Wos apology not enough to address NC DHHS fiasco

January 14, 2014 

Gov. Pat McCrory and DHHS Secretary Aldona Wos

ETHAN HYMAN — ehyman@newsobserver.com

The apology on Tuesday of Dr. Aldona Wos, secretary of the state Department of Health and Human Services, for multiple problems in her agency was utterly sincere. But Wos didn’t exactly offer much confidence-building to state legislators on an oversight committee.

The secretary, who prior to her appointment had never done anything close to supervising a state department with over 17,000 employees, seems simply overwhelmed and underqualified for the job. Gov. Pat McCrory, well aware of Wos’s mega-fundraising for Republicans, continues to stand by his ill-advised appointment, digging in against calls for Wos to resign even as the problems at DHHS have multiplied.

There were the 49,000 Medicaid cards mailed to the wrong addresses. There is the continuing holdup in food stamps, so royally messed up that federal officials are talking about withholding money. There are problems with computer systems rushed into use. There has been turnover in important positions and clumsy appointments of 20-something political workers to $85,000-plus jobs. And DHHS has too many service contracts in the hundreds of thousands of dollars with private individuals.

This is a department charged with delivering the critical services of food and medical care to people who really need them.

Wos offered the predictable talking point about moving forward and not looking back. No wonder. Looking back at all the problems since she took over the department would scare people about where she and her team might take it going forward.

DHHS secretary has been a political appointment by the governor, and in a department this size that can be risky. To be fair, the Wos administration isn’t the first to face big troubles. Under Secretary Carmen Hooker Odom and Gov. Mike Easley, a mental health care reform plan went terribly awry.

McCrory evidently believed that Wos’ being a medical doctor would be an asset to DHHS. That would be true only if her medical degree came with administrative experience involving a huge corporation or agency. No doubt McCrory viewed the hundreds of thousands of dollars Vos and her husband have given to Republican candidates as an asset as well.

Unfortunately, Wos chose in appearing before legislators Tuesday to shift the blame for some of her agency’s problems to ... drum roll, please ... President Obama. Oh, why not? The Affordable Care Act, she said, came with all sorts of changes that have strained DHHS, causing confusion and problems.

Whatever changes the ACA might have required should have been seen coming long ago. The law was drawn up, passed and signed by President Obama in March 2010. It was vetted and upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court. States have had plenty of time to get ready for its implementation. The fact that Republican lawmakers in North Carolina ignored the law and acted as if they wished it would just go away hasn’t helped prepare the state for its start-up.

The secretary did strike the right note with the committee when she said, “I deeply apologize for the impact this has caused to the citizens of the state.”

That note might have been on key, but there’s no indication Wos can carry a tune when it comes to straightening out the behemoth that is DHHS.

McCrory, of course, continues to reference his old mantra of how badly the Democrats had broken state government and how it’s up to Republicans to fix everything. But DHHS, always faced with daunting challenges in delivery of services, seems to have been dropped and dented and broken more than ever since Wos took over.

Her claims that the agency has been a victim of changing federal rules don’t excuse the vast problems in DHHS or her personnel mistakes or the hiring of private contractors – one of whom came from her husband’s company – who’ve gotten hundreds of thousands of dollars from DHHS.

This remains an agency plagued by disorganization and lacking in leadership. Enough is enough.

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