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DHHS Sec. Aldona Wos

DHHS Sec. Aldona Wos

If there’s anything positive about placing our state under the control of right-wing politicians, it might be this: the fact that it forces at least some people to, eventually, confront the hard reality that cut rate, on-the-cheap government rarely works. This fact is apparently being slowly brought home of late to North Carolina’s embattled Secretary of Health and Human Services, Aldona Wos.

As WRAL.com reports this morning, Wos is calling for millions of new dollars to be spent on the state’s troubled medical examiner system:

State health officials told lawmakers Monday that they need about $6 million more a year to fix the medical examiner system, which has failed to meet minimum national standards for staffing, training and facilities.

Lou Turner, deputy section chief for the state Department of Health and Human Services, told lawmakers that the agency has been asking for more money and staff for a decade but lawmakers haven’t listened.

“It did not get funded. It did not go forward,” she said.

Put simply, Wos and her team are learning what a lot of crusading anti-government ideologues learn when they are faced with actually making the trains run on time: Notwithstanding the propaganda from the right-wing think tanks, providing high quality public services costs real money.

Let’s hope state lawmakers respond favorably to the new DHHS request and, more importantly, that North Carolina’s elected leaders learn an important lesson from the experience — namely, that it’s shortsighted and destructive to try to run the public structures and services that bind our middle class society as if they were some kind of bottom feeding chain of retail outlets.

News

State lawmakers won’t be making any major decisions on Medicaid reform before next year’s long legislative session, but Health and Human Services Secretary Aldona Wos wants to make it clear she opposes any plans that would move Medicaid outside her agency.

Secretary Wos reiterated Wednesday that such a move would sidetrack her agency from the work that has been done over the past 19 months.

“Such a decision would be disruptive. It would divert resources and human capital from the ongoing day- to-day operations of the division,” said Dr. Wos.

Earlier this month, Dr. Wos found herself defending the hiring of outside contractors to assist her agency with reorganization while she promoted plans that “flattened” the structure of the state Medicaid program, which provides healthcare for more than 1.5 million North Carolinians.

Click below to hear part of Wos’ remarks, or watch Wednesday’s full hearing here.
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Commentary
DHHS Sec. Aldona Wos

DHHS Sec. Aldona Wos

Multiple newspapers have called for North Carolina’s Secretary of Health and Human Services Aldona Wos to resign or be fired during her first 20 months in office. Now, one of the first to speak out has done so again.

One year ago this week, the Henderson Daily Dispatch said the following:

Aldona Wos must immediately resign her position as the secretary of our state’s Department of Health and Human Services. If she does not, Gov. Pat McCrory has to make the decision for her.

Now, this week, after indulging in some amusing sports analogies, the paper renewed its plea/demand:

Wos’ department isn’t having a one-time issue. It has been a train wreck from the beginning.

She’s made bad hires that cost taxpayers in payouts against potential claims, put personnel in positions for which they are not prepared and awarded quarter-million dollar consulting work to her husband’s firm….

Taxpayers are bleeding from horrific mismanagement. Wos would have been long gone in any business other than politics. North Carolinians deserve better.

Hat tip: Logan Smith at Progress NC

News

North Carolina’s food stamps program continues to face major problems in how it operates and monitors federal funds for low-income families struggling to get food on their tables, according to a recent report by federal officials.

NC FAST logoA strongly worded management evaluation by the U.S. Department of Agriculture of the state’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program  listed more than 38 faults with North Carolina’s system, ranging from “critical findings” regarding a lack of oversight at the state level to regulatory violations about what is included on applications for food assistance.

“There are critical findings in the Claims/TOP area that are related to a lack of State oversight and monitoring,” read one finding in the 19-page report. (Scroll down to read the report itself.)

The major findings also included a “lack of State oversight in Recipient Integrity” that led to instances of potential fraud not being referred to for prosecution and “serious findings” in the state’s employment and training program.

The Sept. 10 management evaluation rested on visits that officials from the USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service office made in May and June where operations were observed at the state level, as well as in social services offices in Guilford, Pitt and Wake counties.

It requires DHHS to provide a corrective action plan within the next 60 days.

The report came on the heels of a major breakdwon in North Carolina’s food stamps delivery system last year that left thousands of low-income families without access to food assistance for weeks or months. The problems were attributed to glitches in a new technology system, N.C. FAST (Families Assessing Services through Technology) and issues that county-level workers had in accessing the new system while struggling under heavy caseloads.

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News
Wos-and-Nichol

DHHS Secretary Dr. Aldona Wos (left), and Gene Nichol of the UNC School of Law (right)

If you missed it over the weekend, there are two-must read stories on where North Carolina stands in expanding Medicaid.

The Winston Salem Journal’s Richard Craver had a sit down interview with state DHHS Secretary Dr. Aldona Wos, in which Wos said she would “soon” be recommending expanding the state Medicaid program to Gov. Pat McCrory.

So, how soon is soon? Craver writes:

“Everyone needs to know that Medicaid expansion is complicated,” Wos said, slowing down to pronounce each syllable in “complicated.” “There is no flipping of a switch.”

She said physical and behavioral health care system expansion must come first so the system is able to absorb additional participants.

“Our state has to have industry adapt to providing enough health-care providers, and that is a process,” Wos said.

Wos said a key element of building DHHS’ foundation is “getting new skills in finance, economists and actuaries, that are absolutely critical to our organization.”

“If I am allowed to continue on this path, I guarantee you we will have that foundation. The rest of the process is building upon that foundation with standards, with flexibility built in.”

“We’re not too far away. Soon.”

Gene Nichol,  director of the UNC Center on Poverty, Work and Opportunity,  – who does not speak for UNC – wrote in Saturday’s Raleigh News & Observer that the longer the state goes without expanding Medicaid, the more lives are lost.

Here’s an excerpt from Nichol’s opinion piece:

‘The consequences for poor people of being excluded from health care coverage are real and dramatic. Losses in health, losses in emotional well-being, losses in financial capacity, losses in opportunity. And, for some, it’s worse.

A recent Harvard study indicates a significant number of our sisters and brothers will experience premature and preventable deaths as a result of the General Assembly’s rejection of Medicaid expansion. Many “low-income women will forgo breast and cervical cancer screenings, diabetics will (fail to receive) necessary medications,” blood pressure pills and other preventative measures will be denied, “diagnosis and treatment of depression” will be diminished.

As a result, the scholars estimate, the number of Tar Heels who will perish at the hand of our politics may well exceed a thousand a year. The wound inflicted by the Medicaid vote is grievous, deep and sometimes mortal.

I’ve wondered how it feels to cast a vote that means thousands might needlessly die. I can’t get my arms around it. Looking in the mirror must become tougher duty. I can see not wanting to dwell on it.

But when you make a decision that means people may lose their lives, surely you have to do more than offer empty slogans and nonsense-laden talking points to defend it. Surely you have to show you’ve done something more than merely taken instruction, more than mindlessly repeated what you’ve been told – like some malfunctioning teleprompter.

At least you ought to show that you’ve thought it through for yourself. That you’re not just siding with one gang or the other or proving your antipathy for various adversaries.

When politics becomes lethal, responsibility ascends.’

Read the full story in the Winston-Salem Journal here, and the full Point of View column by Nichol here in the News & Observer.

(Note: Nichol is a board member of the N.C. Justice Center, the larger anti-poverty non-profit that N.C. Policy Watch is a part of).