Even at $1 a year, DHHS Secretary Aldona Wos is no bargain

Missteps are costly to all
Jan 30, 2014

Dr. Aldona Wos has been serving as Gov. Pat McCrory’s Department of Health and Human Services secretary since 2012. As a physician, former U.S. Ambassador to Estonia and a strong advocate of AIDS/HIV prevention, Wos’ resume is not without its pluses. That she was a major fundraiser for the Republican Party certainly played a part in the appointment. Additionally, she volunteered to take the job for just $1 a year, so the appointment seemed like a bargain.

Then the missteps started.

One of her first steps that raised eyebrows was appointing the governor’s campaign press secretary as her communications director, and naming another 24-year-old McCrory campaign worker as the department’s policy director. She raised their salaries to the $85,000 range, about $25,000 more than those previously in the position.

Then there was her chief of staff who left after only one month with a $37,000 severance package, and the woman hired to head the department’s early childhood development division who, it turned out, didn’t believe in publicly funded early childhood programs.

Another brouhaha developed when the woman appointed as the director of Medicaid, who was to head up a privatization effort, resigned after eight months to go to work for a Florida company interested in gaining the state’s business in privately managing its Medicaid program.

Then there were the incidents about a $312,000 contract employee to oversee financial matters, and the hiring of her husband’s business associate at a rate of $228,000 for eight months of work, both which made headlines in daily newspapers.

The personnel decisions could perhaps be overlooked if the department was running like a fine-oiled machine. But it isn’t.

The troubled rollout of two new statewide efforts to manage Medicaid and the food and nutrition programs stumbled badly, leaving medical care providers so far behind with payments some had to borrow funds to meet payroll. The food and nutrition applications became seriously backlogged as county social service workers tried to find their way through the complicated new software.

A serious breach of personal information occurred when 49,000 children’s Medicaid cards were mailed to the wrong addresses. When the federal government shut down, North Carolina became the only state in the union that announced benefits would no longer be provided to pregnant women or infants.

Now we’ve reached the point where the federal government has expressed serious concerns about the state’s ability to be a capable partner in administering federal programs. A letter first received in December, but not made public for several weeks, indicated the state administration fees of about $88 million could be withheld unless the food and nutrition backlog is cleared up.

County personnel are the ones who do the actual work for the food and nutrition program, so the U.S. Department of Agriculture funding is budgeted by counties across the state. Haywood’s backlog is under control, thanks to the 13 temporary employees hired to get through the software conversion process.

But if the statewide problems aren’t resolved, Haywood taxpayers will have to pony up another $24,000 a month due to the loss of federal funding.

As the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services floats from one crisis to another, it is impacting each and every person in the state, whether they are receiving a single dime from any of the programs administered through the agency.

It appears the $1 a year salary for Aldona Wos is no bargain. This is definitely a case of getting what you pay for.

It is time for Wos to gracefully resign. If that doesn’t happen, the governor needs to force the issue.