by Jane Porter
The North Carolina Legislative Black Caucus held an impromptu press conference Wednesday afternoon to address what several legislators called flaws and failures within the Department of Health and Human Services, including the “questionable judgment” of the agency’s secretary, Aldona Wos.
A letter addressed to Wos and Gov. Pat McCrory, which was hand-delivered following the conference, admonished Wos for “choosing to communicate via email with only 17 of 170 N.C. legislators about the status of the Department and issues reported on the press.”
Most pressing of these issues, perhaps, are the recent food stamps delays (NC FAST) in a number of counties in the state.
Sen. Earline Parmon, D-Forsyth, who spoke at the conference, said “an overwhelming number” of residents in her district have been calling her, saying they have not received their food benefits for months.
“On my way here, I got a call from a mother who has a child that’s diabetic,” Parmon said. “His blood sugar keeps dropping, because she has not been able to access her food stamps.”
Parmon said she was fortunate in Forsyth County to work with local agencies to feed families who had not received food stamps through July; several other counties in the state are experiencing backlogs as well.
The McCrory administration has maintained the issues originated under former Gov. Beverly Perdue.
There have also been recent issues with Medicaid reimbursements; claims have been approved at levels far below the DHHS’ targets.
In addition, hospitals and health care clinics have been closing and laying off employees across the state, due to the government’s refusal to support Medicaid expansion—when North Carolina has the third-highest unemployment rate in the country.
Finally, there are the well-publicized personnel and staffing decisions, such as double-digit salary increases for former McCrory staffers with questionable qualifications, decisions attributed to Wos and McCrory.
In another instance, DHHS has paid Wos acquaintance Joe Hauck $228,000 between January and August 2013. Hauck is a former employee of Wos’ husband and has been advising Wos on “strategic planning, reorganization and policy issues.”
While DHHS has been successful in reducing its base payroll overall, Rep. Larry Hall, D-Durham, said that the agency has not been successful in accomplishing its “base mission.”
“North Carolina residents were promised they would have the same level of sufficient services at a reduced cost,” Hall said. “To say that we’ve reduced the costs but spent the money irresponsibly on folks who don’t have the qualifications to run the system and failed to deliver the services to the citizens who we have an obligation to…I think that’s a wholly inadequate answer.”
The congressmen and women who spoke Wednesday afternoon were outraged that Wos has failed to even acknowledge to them that significant problems are plaguing DHHS.
Of the 17 legislators Wos emailed with her concerns, only one was a Democrat.
Sen. Parmon and Rep. Hall both said they have called on Wos to meet with them and their calls have gone unanswered.
Asked whether he has lost confidence in Wos’ leadership, Sen. Floyd McKissick, D-Durham, Granville, said: “The jury is still out. The state of North Carolina needs a good, strong, effective Secretary. I think her judgment is questionable in terms of some of the things she’s done at this point.”