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Editorial: The real trouble at DHHS: Failing the needy

Editorial: The real trouble at DHHS: Failing the needy

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The political chatter surrounding controversial N.C. Health and Human Services Secretary Aldona Wos has centered on the high salaries and a personal services contract that she’s given to political cronies and personal friends of the McCrory administration.

But the true scandal at DHHS, one that pre-dates Wos and Gov. Pat McCrory, is the department’s inability to provide basic services to people in need.

There are 1.6 million North Carolinians currently on Medicaid, the joint federal and state program that provides medical and long-term care to the poor and disabled. A new computer system, which has been years in the development, is not working. Doctors, clinics and hospitals are not getting paid, and that is creating a dire cash-flow problem for some of these providers, especially small operations in rural communities. Monday, DHHS announced that the state Medicaid director, Carol Steckell, will leave to take a job in Florida. She has been on the job here eight months.

The N.C. FAST computer system is supposed to speed access to government relief programs but is not doing its job. Food stamps applications, which should be processed within 30 days, are taking 90 days or more. (The DHHS said in a press release Monday that it "continues to take proactive steps to help families and individuals who are waiting for food stamp assistance because of unprocessed applications and recertifications for food and nutrition service (FNS) benefits.")

The state’s churches and food banks are reporting unrelenting demand for help, and some say they can’t keep up.

 Wos may be working long hours, but without improvements. And she’s not answering questions from the press and the public.

It’s clear that Wos does not understand the nature of public service or that her work is public business. DHHS is not a private company. It is a public agency that serves the public.

McCrory says he wants to “fix our broken government,” but nine months in things have only gotten worse. His DHHS secretary does not understand how government works. Instead of hiring experienced professionals who can deliver public services, she has hired political cronies and friends from the private sector.

DHHS is not a private company, and it doesn’t work like one. For key DHHS positions, McCrory must hire people who know how to effectively run such a public agency. There are no indications that Wos does.

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