North Carolina Health News editor Rose Hoban sits down with outgoing Health and Human Services Sec. Aldona Wos for an exit interview.
By Rose Hoban
Today is the last day at work for Health and Human Services Sec. Aldona Wos, who has been in her position since January 2013.
In an interview this week with N.C. Health News editor Rose Hoban, Wos defended her record in her tenure, saying she “brought stability and sustainability” to the Department of Health and Human Services, a sprawling state agency with about 18,000 employees and a budget of more than $18 billion in state and federal dollars.
Listen to the entire 37-minute Wos interview here.
Wos’ tenure in her office was rocky, in particular in her first year. She was criticized for the problematic rollout of NCTracks, the state’s Medicaid management information system, for her initial plan to privatize Medicaid, for her responses to a state audit and for a number of her hiring choices.
In the interview, Wos said the rollout of NCTracks in July 2013 was the right thing to do.
“When you look at it, we are the first in the nation to have an integrated billing system in our arena,” she said.
“Remember, IT rollouts in industry are not you turn a button on and all is perfect; that does not exist in industry. Look at the Affordable Care Act rollout.”
She also maintained that her controversial lead press officer, Ricky Diaz, was a “breath of fresh air” within the department. “He set the platform … of creating an organizational structure.”
Wos said that when she walked into DHHS, it was an antiquated state agency in which most employees did not have email and had experienced an exodus of senior leadership and “many empty offices.”
“The first six months, most of my effort was to find people to please come and serve,” she said.
Wos also said she was “disappointed” in 2014 when the state did not move forward with her eventual proposal to reform the state’s Medicaid program.
“North Carolina missed an opportunity last year,” she said about Medicaid reform. “But we could not accomplish any form of Medicaid reform until we accomplished fundamental things.”
Wos leaves behind a difficult relationship with members of the legislature – in particular, members of the Senate.
“If you tell us what your goal is, because you’re in charge, we’ll get you to your goal,” she said in response to a question of whether she thought the legislature is listening to her department. “But if you tell us how to get you to your goal, we may not be able to do that.”
“Not allowing people to use their creativity, the tools in their toolbox, is problematic,” she said.
Wos leaves on several high notes. For the past two years, Medicaid has finished the fiscal year with cash on hand; she has convinced the legislature of the need to invest in the state’s medical examiner system; and computer glitches in NCTracks and NC FAST, the integrated system for social service program eligibility, have been largely resolved.
She said she believes the department is better able to face the future, and called her departure “bittersweet.”
She’ll return to her home in Greensboro to spend time with her aging mother who recently moved to North Carolina after the death of Wos’ father last year. She also plans to return to the boards of the Washington, D.C.-based Institute of World Politics and the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation.
Wos also said she and her husband, Louis DeJoy, who have been donors to Republican candidates in the past, would continue to be active in politics. She declined to elaborate on which candidates they might be supporting.