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Rose Hoban, NC Health News

Rose Hoban, NC Health News

Rose Hoban of N.C. Health News, a non-profit journalism website focused on covering state public health policy, penned this editorial over the weekend about the increasing difficult time reporters are having in getting questions answered by the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services.

Hoban recounted how she and her staff, since reporting what Hoban called unflattering news in May about DHHS, have been stonewalled by the agency’s public affairs staff. The news group has resorted to public records requests in order to get information from the public agency.

From Hoban’s piece, published Sunday in the (Raleigh) News & Observer:

[T]he closing of the lines of communication between DHHS and reporters in the past six months has been troubling. Ricky Diaz, the lead press officer at DHHS, has been quoted in many stories about issues in his department, but many reporters have increasingly voiced concern about the increased time it takes to get responses to requests for information – if they get a response at all. And while Diaz may be quoted, there have been few opportunities for exchanges between Secretary of DHHS Aldona Wos and other leaders in the department.

Recently, the N&O reported that one of its reporters was blocked by “a bodyguard” in an attempt to ask Wos a question. And departmental employees were told to call police if activists who were bringing petitions to the Dix campus – where DHHS offices are located – stopped any employees or entered any of the department’s public buildings.

At NC Health News, we have had most media requests denied or unanswered since we ran a story in May that painted Wos in an unflattering light. We have resorted to making most requests in the form of open records requests with legal language that essentially compels the department to answer or face the prospect of litigation.

You can read Hoban’s editorial in its entirety here, where she talks about the risk to public health that broken communication lines can cause.

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It’s been a week since we first reported on the $80,000 salaries that two 24-year-old former McCrory campaign workers are making in top jobs in the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services.

Ricky Diaz, DHHS’ communication director, makes $85,000 a year after receiving a 37 percent pay increase in April when he transferred over from the governor’s press office. Matt McKillip serves as N.C. Department of Health and Human Services’ chief policy officer and makes $87,500 after getting a $22,500 pay raise in April.

Source: DHHS employee newsletter

Source: DHHS employee newsletter

Their raises came a month after Gov. Pat McCrory had given state departments a directive to watch their expenses and freeze salary increases. On Friday, House Minority Leader Larry Hall, a Democrat, called on Speaker Thom Tillis, a Republican, for a legislative investigation into the raises.

McCrory has defended his former campaign workers’ raises, telling reporters that the young staffers are qualified and were being paid the standard salaries for those positions.

“They got promotions,” McCrory told WNCN in an interview last week. “They were actually moved over to areas that frankly a lot of older people applied for, too. But frankly, these two young people are very well qualified and they are being paid for jobs at which that’s the pay rate for that job.”

DHHS chief policy advisor Matthew McKillip Source: LinkedIn

DHHS chief policy advisor Matthew McKillip
Source: LinkedIn

McKillip, as we reported here, was also involved with Wos’ much-criticized hire of Dianna Lightfoot to head the state’s early education and child development section. Lightfoot had advocated against pre-school educations in her past and had made controversial statements on social media.

Since last week, a lot of other media in the state have jumped in and pointed out other high salaries and multi-thousand dollar raises since McCrory took office.

Here’s a recap of some of what’s been reported.

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