Fitzsimon File

The Follies (once again of hapless DHHS)

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DHHS needs to provide answers, not praise itself

Things went from the ridiculous to the absurd this week at the troubled state Department of Health and Human Services.

The same day that embattled Secretary Aldona Wos and her top deputies were struggling to answer tough questions from state lawmakers about questionable salaries and problems with Medicaid claims, the department announced that because of the federal government shutdown it was no long providing benefits for pregnant women and infants under the federally-funded WIC program.

That was Tuesday.

The announcement prompted media reports pointing out that North Carolina was the only state in the country that was denying the benefits.

After reporters and members of Congress started demanding to know why every other state found a way to keep women and children from going hungry while North Carolina was cutting them off from help, DHHS announced Thursday night that it had secured additional funds to continue the program.

No one has yet explained why the program was interrupted in the first place—and the public deserves to know.

HHS officials in every other state in country managed to keep their WIC program operating without halting payment of the benefits, but not North Carolina.

One email from DHHS announcing the reversal said that “thanks to the efforts of the Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Aldona Wos and Governor Pat McCrory, the NC WIC Program will resume normal operations…”

You have to hand to them. They are touting their solution to a problem they created themselves. They apparently want praise and credit for restarting a program to help women and children that they inexplicably cut off.

That’s what it has come to at DHHS, basking in the glow of flailing to correct their own mismanagement.

What Wos really meant…

Thursday also more brought troubling news about Secretary Wos’ Tuesday testimony before the legislative oversight committee. Senator Earline Parmon asked Wos if she had been told of problems with NC Tracks, the new Medicaid billing and payment system, before it went online July 1.

Medical care providers described massive problems with the system in testimony to the committee Tuesday. An official with the Cape Fear Valley Health System said NC TRACKS has denied payments of $4 million worth of chemotherapy drugs to his institution.

Wos said no, no one had sounded the alarm that there were problems that should have prompted a delay in rolling out the new system.

That promoted State Auditor Beth Wood to issue a statement saying that she had pointed out serious concerns with the system to DHHS officials in late May.

DHHS spokesperson Ricky Diaz explained the contradiction in the Winston-Salem Journal by saying that Wos did not answer Parmon’s question untruthfully because “all the concerns raised in the report were addressed prior to NC Tracks going live on July 1.”

Addressed indeed. That must be why payments for $4 million worth of chemotherapy drugs were denied to one hospital system.

And the question was not did Wos try to fix the problems that she was told about, it was did anyone raise questions about NC TRACKS before it went live—and Wood clearly did.

Wos either doesn’t remember or would rather not admit it.

And don’t forget, this is the cabinet secretary that Governor McCrory this week said he was proud of.