Robin Cummings headshot
Robin Cummings, MD - BS - UNC-Chapel Hill - MD - Duke University - Residency, Fellowship - Duke University

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By Rose Hoban

A big shuffle is coming to the top of the state’s Medicaid program, Sec. Aldona Wos announced today.

The current Medicaid head, Robin Cummings, will be leaving the department to become the new chancellor of UNC-Pembroke, and with his departure many other roles are shifting.

Robin Cummings, MD

Dave Richard, deputy secretary of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities Services, will move into Cummings’ seat, while Dale Armstrong, the current director of the Division of State Operated Healthcare Facilities, will move into Richards’ former position.

Courtney Cantrell, who has led the Division of Mental Health, Developmental Disabilities and Substance Abuse Services, will take on new responsibilities and also support Armstrong.

And the department will also get some new blood at the top, with the arrival of Raleigh OB/GYN Randall Williams, who will become deputy secretary of Health Services, managing the state’s rural health and public health offices.

The shuffle is typical of staff movement in recent years at DHHS, with Wos keeping people she knows and trusts close to her.

Big jump

Before coming to DHHS, Richard was head of The Arc of North Carolina, an organization that works with people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. During Richard’s last year at The Arc, his budget was about $20 million. Now he’ll be managing a budget that is in the neighborhood of $14 billion.

“He’s ready to take the leap,” said Julia Adams, governmental affairs liaison for The Arc, who worked for Richard for years and called him the “right man” for the job.

Ronnie Beale (left), president of the State Association of County Commissioners, and Dave Richard, assistant secretary for mental health, developmental disabilities and substance abuse services, at the Legislative Breakfast on Mental Health earlier this year. Photo credit: Taylor Sisk

“He has a lot of experience in Medicaid in the state of North Carolina,” Adams said. “The Arc is a Medicaid provider and he had to work closely with numerous Medicaid directors over the years.”

Adams said Richard has been pretty successful in working with mental health and disabilities advocates during his time as deputy secretary.

“He keeps all the stakeholders fully engaged, informed and has a place at the table for those of us with expertise,” she said. “That was critical in making sure that as we moved through the first two years, we didn’t see major adjustments that were negative.”

Adams also praised Richard’s honesty, a trait that sometimes could be disarming to legislators.

Richard also kept a line open to the media, who he had worked with as an advocate before coming to DHHS, at a time when other DHHS leaders were keeping the media at a distance.

When asked earlier this year what he’d learned about government since switching roles, Richard said he learned that government is far more complicated than he had ever imagined when he was an advocate.

Tasks left undone

In an interview with N.C. Health News last year, Cummings expressed confidence he would be able to get the department’s preferred Medicaid reform plan through the General Assembly.

The department’s plan features provider-led organizations that would share financial risk with the state, whereas Senate leaders prefer a plan that would use for-profit managed care companies to run the Medicaid program.

“I think we do our education, we respond to questions and we make ourselves open to explaining why we think this is the way to go,” he said at the time. “Hopefully, in the end, after good debate, we will come to a plan that will look a lot like what we have presented as our goal and we can move on.”

Though Cummings was well liked and respected by lawmakers, he was unable to get Medicaid reform across the finish line, as negotiations over the future of the program disintegrated at the end of a committee process last fall.

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