Dr. Aldona Wos’ tenure as secretary of the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services had a turbulent start and an oddly quiet finish.
Much of her time at DHHS was marked by computer boondoggles that delayed payments to health care providers, erratic hiring and firing and no-bid consultant contracts with ballooning costs. Then the news slowed. The state’s Medicaid program, which Wos had declared broken, was declared fixed. And the secretary whom it seemed no uproar or embarrassment could dislodge abruptly said last month that she was leaving her job to spend more time with her family in Greensboro.
At an Aug. 5 news conference announcing Wos’ departure, Gov. Pat McCrory became emotional about losing the person he called “the best secretary of Health and Human Services the state has ever had.” He stopped talking and shed a tear. Wos handed him a tissue.
But now it appears that the quiet at DHHS and the secretary’s sentimental farewell were not what they seemed. A week before the news conference, the office of U.S. Attorney Thomas Walker presented subpoenas to DHHS in connection with a federal grand jury’s investigation of the department. The subpoenas seek records related to hiring and no-bid contracts, including a no-bid, $3.2 million contract that later was expanded to more than $9 million.
Wos has not commented on the investigation, but her successor, DHHS Secretary Rick Brajer, told WNCN on Monday that Wos’ decision to quit was not related to the subpoenas.
That may be, but the investigation certainly throws a new light on Wos’ leaving. And it raises anew questions about McCrory’s competence at hiring, assessing and retaining members of his administration. Wos is his fourth Cabinet member to resign before the end of his first term.
Wos left a department in turmoil, struggling with high job vacancies, its largest program – Medicaid – being managed by expensive consultants and under the cloud of a federal investigation. Quite a record for “the best secretary of Health and Human Services the state has ever had.”
Given McCrory’s weak oversight, it’s reassuring that federal prosecutors are taking a deep look at what happened under Wos and is happening still. DHHS serves the state’s neediest and most vulnerable people, most of them children or elderly. The department should be run in a way that ensures that tax dollars are well spent and that those who rely on DHHS programs get all the support intended.
DHHS doesn’t need to be “run like a business,” as McCrory likes to say of all government functions. It didn’t need Wos’ autocratic style of firing experienced public servants and hiring political supporters and hand-picked consultants. It needs to be run like an effective human services agency. This investigation may help push DHHS back onto a path to where it should be.