Department in Distress: A Minefield Initialed D-H-H-S

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RALEIGH—In case you missed it, yesterday North Carolina’s new Medicaid Director, Carol Steckel, suddenly resigned after only eight months on the job. Steckel’s departure leaves Gov. McCrory’s plans to privatize Medicaid in the lurch and is another blow to an agency in distress. To summarize, Progress NC Action has created the following timeline of DHHS potholes and pratfalls.

Dec. 13 -

McCrory selects his campaign chair and chief fundraiser Aldona Wos to be the new DHHS Secretary. According to tax records and campaign finance reports, Wos, her husband Louis DeJoy and employees of their company, New Breed Logistics, have donated over $240,000 to the McCrory election effort.

Feb. 6 -

DHHS issues a dress code for employees, that was quickly rescinded. Denim was on the “do not wear” list.

Feb. 7 -

Diana Lightfoot resigns before ever starting the job as head of early childhood education after it was revealed that she doesn’t believe in early childhood education and her personal twitter account was full of crazy rants about Hillary Clinton’s sexuality and a Japanese earthquake caused by ultrasonic waves from China. 

March 8 -

Blaming Medicaid cost overruns, McCrory issues a directive calling for a state salary freeze.

April 3 -

In a press conference, Wos suggests that transparency can be dangerous.

July 30 -

State Health Director Dr. Laura Gerald resigns, citing disagreements with the policy direction of DHHS.

Aug. 14 -

Sarah Ovaska of NC Policy Watch breaks the story about two 24-year-old former McCrory campaign staffers that received big raises after the March 8 directive. Ricky Diaz and Matthew McKillip got pay increases of $23,000 and $22,500 respectively and now make $85,000 and $87,500 a year. McKillip is now Sec. Wos’ chief policy advisor despite no evidence that he has any experience in health care policy.

Aug. 15 -

Gov. McCrory defended the raises for his two young campaign staffers, suggesting they beat out older job applicants: “They were actually moved over to areas that frankly a lot of older people applied for, too.”

A bodyguard prevented a reporter from asking Wos questions at a public event.

Aug. 16 - 

WRAL finds that 280 full-time workers at DHHS received raises totaling $1.7 million after the March 8 directive. Among those that received raises was Anthony Vellucci, the IT director for NC FAST—which is the midst of its own problems failing to provide hungry families with food stamps. 

Aug 17 -

Reporters are blocked from asking questions to Wos by security guards. 

Aug. 23 -

NC Policy Watch reports that Wos’ personal secretary, Kristy Craig, 25, was given a 30% raise in April.

Aug. 28 -

The Associated Press reports that DHHS cannot produce any evidence that the jobs of Diaz and McKillip were ever posted publicly—in contradiction to McCrory’s statement on Aug. 15.

Sep. 4 -

DHHS hires lobbyist, filmmaker and Republican operative Aaron Mullins as a “brand and marketing manager.” Mullins was paid by the McCrory campaign to produce a glowing Election Night video.

Sep. 5 -

The Raleigh News & Observer reports that a business associate of Wos and her husband, Joe Hauck, was paid more than $228,000 for only eight months of work on a personal services contract to DHHS. Hauck’s contract is set to expire on Nov. 30 and is capped at $310,000. Hauck also was a contributor to McCrory gubernatorial campaign, giving $6,500 in total.

Additionally, former Republican State Auditor Les Merritt was hired by DHHS on contract and was paid $58,500 in June and July.

Sep. 9 -

DHHS fires the state’s top dentist.

Sep. 13 -

WakeMed CEO Bill Atkinson criticizes DHHS for delays and cost overruns. In addition, Atkinson called the relationship between WakeMed and DHHS “nonexistent” saying he has no communication with Wos.

Sep. 17 -

The N&O reports that DHHS hired McCrory contributor and Tea Party activist, Mardy Peal, as a senior planner for McCrory’s new Medicaid privatization scheme. Peal was a lecturer at the ECU School of Medicine, but has been working as a stay-at-home mom for more than a decade. She is now making $95,000 a year, but her position was not publicly advertised.

Sep. 18 -

In a bizarre press conference, McCrory defends Wos and DHHS and argues that reports about state government employee salaries is an invasion of privacy.

Sep. 20 -

NC Policy Watch reports Wos and State Budget Director Art Pope approved a $37,000 settlement for a DHHS employee that worked only one month at the department. Thomas Adams, Wos’ chief of staff, left the agency for unknown reasons but ultimately received more than $51,000 for one month of work.

In a News14 interview, Wos says she wishes she could pay Diaz and McKillip even more.

The AP reports that problems with NC FAST have led to a run on North Carolina food banks.

Sep. 21 -

The Henderson Daily Dispatch is the first newspaper to call on Wos to resign.

Sep. 23 -

Medicaid Director Carol Steckel resigns after just eight months on the job.

So what does all of this mean? It adds up to an agency under duress and one that has lost the confidence of the public.

“Gov. McCrory and Sec. Wos have big plans for the future of Medicaid, but how can they possibly succeed when they’ve lost all credibility,” said Gerrick Brenner of Progress NC Action. “Most frustrating of all, they won’t even admit to the most obvious of problems.”

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