From Kendra Gerlach, director of the Office of Communications at the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services, in response to “Aldona Wos fallout drags on at DHHS,” a Winston-Salem Journal editorial that ran on the Observer’s website Oct. 6:
The Winston-Salem Journal editorial unfortunately didn’t include all the information a reader needs to understand the full story.
A number of well-known and well-documented operational and staffing challenges confronted DHHS at the beginning of the McCrory administration.
But first, a major point of clarification. Gov. Pat McCrory’s administration did not award former DHHS manager Angeline Sligh a 25 percent raise. Sligh, who was cited in a state audit, got that raise while serving under Gov. Bev Perdue’s administration.
Recall that the Herculean tasks taken on by DHHS and Secretary Aldona Wos were done because Medicaid spending was out of control. Medicaid faced a nearly $2 billion budgetary shortfall the previous four years. That was money that could have been invested in our schools, roads and public safety.
NCTracks, the Medicaid claims system, was years behind schedule and hundreds of millions of dollars over budget. One of the first steps Secretary Wos took was to recruit and hire the department’s first Chief Information Officer. Within six months, NCTracks, the largest IT project in North Carolina’s history, was implemented and online. NCTracks costs less to operate than the previous system and is saving taxpayers nearly $3 million every month since it went live.
Less than two years after implementation, this system earned national certification by the federal government, which resulted in an influx of $19 million to the state as well as higher federal reimbursement going forward.
Implementing IT projects of this magnitude doesn’t happen without leadership and commitment to tackle the challenges that come with putting modern technology into place. That’s what Secretary Wos brought. NCTracks replaced a system nearly 40 years old and today, providers who are caring for our state’s Medicaid population are paid more often and more accurately than under the previous system. This is a win for our state’s most vulnerable population, to have a stable base of health care providers willing to meet their needs.
Achieving that type of turnaround required the services of highly qualified experts – experts who command top dollar in the private sector. But as DHHS has become more efficient, the number of personal contracts has been cut in half and many of those remaining are for professionals who are directly delivering services to patients.
It’s important to know that any time specific issues have been brought to DHHS’ attention, they have been addressed.
Under the leadership of Secretary Wos, DHHS achieved remarkable turn-around over the past two and half years, finishing the last two years with $194 million in cash on hand in the Medicaid budget, compared to the previous four years that saw a $1.8 billion shortfall.
Yes, there were well-known challenges confronting DHHS at the end of the Perdue administration. Since that time, there have also been remarkable achievements – ones that have modernized decades-old technology, ones that have brought money back to the state and ones that are saving taxpayer dollars. These are the results that tell the rest of the story.