Wake County will hire 86 new employees as it tries to clear a backlog of thousands of applications for Medicaid. The new positions will be funded by $5.9 million from the federal government, according to the county.
The county mostly needs the new employees to meet the demands of a new statewide data system, NC FAST, which caused disruptions in human services departments across the state when it debuted last year.
“I know 86 sounds like a lot, but that’s what we need,” said Regina Petteway, interim director for Wake County Human Services. “We really need to end the use of temporary staff and overtime and weekend work.”
The NC FAST system asks for much more personal data about each applicant, and thus requires more county manpower, she said. Wake largely has cleared a backlog for food assistance requests, but about 2,200 people’s applications for Medicaid are backlogged, she said.
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To ease counties’ transitions, the federal government now is paying for up to 75 percent, rather than 50 percent, of the cost to process Medicaid cases in NC FAST, according to the state Department of Health and Human Services. The state requested the money to cover work added by NC FAST and the Affordable Care Act, DHHS said.
This is not the first time Wake has hired new employees to deal with the delays. The county added 36 human services employees to its budget in February. Human Services also has taken on a surge of temporary staffers.
The new positions will be advertised beginning this week. When they’re filled, the county’s Health Services case-management staff will have increased by about 50 percent, to about 365 people, compared to the beginning of this calendar year.
Commissioner Rich Gianni asked whether county staff had considered alternative options, such as continuing to rely on temporary staffers.
“I realize this isn’t costing Wake County, but it is costing the taxpayers,” he said.
Petteway said that the new hires include two management analysts who will help optimize the program.
She expects the new staffing will keep the county’s services for those in need running smoothly for at least a “couple years,” but she said population growth and changes to systems could necessitate new hires.
She estimates that Wake will catch up on Medicaid applications by March or April.