ZEBULON — A state legislator who represents part of eastern Wake County voiced his support Thursday for Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. Aldona Wos, whose agency has been mired in controversy over the past year.
But Rep. Chris Malone, a Republican representing District 35 in the N.C. House, indicated his support may turn if too much time passes and problems aren’t ironed out at DHHS.
“I think she needs to stay on ... but we’re having problems,” Malone said. “If we’re sitting here talking next year at the same time and it’s still just as bad, it might be another story. I might have a different position to take.”
A statement released Friday by the office of Republican Gov. Pat McCrory also offered continued support for Wos, who was appointed by the governor. The statement came after the Legislative Black Caucus in the General Assembly simultaneously held five news conferences around the state calling for McCrory to immediately replace Wos.
The flare-up was sparked by the caucus’ discovery on Thursday of a letter from the U.S. Department of Agriculture threatening to sanction the state for failing to show it was taking steps to fix widespread problems with food stamp applications. That was only the latest among several DHHS controversies over the past year since the McCrory administration has been in office.
Another DHHS computer software miscue resulted in delayed payments of Medicaid claims. And the department on Dec. 30 announced it had sent out nearly 49,000 Medicaid cards, listing the personal information of children, to the wrong addresses.
Malone said he sought explanation for the errant mailing and never got a straight answer.
“I said, ‘Where’d we get the names of the people who we were supposed to send them out to, and where did we get the addresses from?’ ” Malone said after holding a lightly-attended meeting at Zebulon Town Hall. “I didn’t get the kind of response I was looking for.”
The department has also said it could not locate memos justifying at least six high-dollar contracts awarded by Wos.
The justification memos are required per department policy for sole-source and personal-services contracts, and the DHHS purchasing manual does not provide an exception for the Office of the Secretary.
Among the contracts were one worth $312,000 a year to Zebulon resident and former State Auditor Les Merritt and another worth $310,000 to a vice president from the company owned by Wos’ husband.
“You have to have that,” Malone said, referring to documentation justifying the contracts. “The buck stops there with the secretary on this one, and some would say the governor as well.
“You need to have your spending under control and you need to be held accountable at all times.”
Wos has also been criticized for placing a pair of 24-year-old McCrory campaign aides in high-level, full-time positions.
Ricky Diaz was named to the $85,000 role of chief DHHS spokesman and Matt McKillip to the $87,500-earning task of chief policy adviser. Diaz on Wednesday announced plans to resign, effective Jan. 24, to take a job for a political consulting firm based in Washington, D.C.
Malone described the state health agency as “an institutional mess” that “needs complete overhaul,” but still defended Wos saying much of her woes were inherited.
“I think she had a monumental mess, to be charitable, that she received and she’s trying to figure out what’s going on,” he said. “I have a sneaky suspicion it would be just as bad and just as tumultuous if you had a Democrat running things right now.”
Malone also suggested not everyone wants to see change at DHHS.
“There’s a lot of people who like the chaos,” he said. “Their careers are flourishing underneath the chaos, hidden away from being at the top, where they don’t flourish – they get banged up pretty good.”
Staff writers Craig Jarvis and Joseph Neff contributed to this report.
Moody: 919-829-4806; Twitter: @easternwakenews