Aldona Wos fallout drags on at DHHS

Gov. Pat McCrory (left) with DHHS Secretary Aldona Wos during a January 2013 press conference.
Gov. Pat McCrory (left) with DHHS Secretary Aldona Wos during a January 2013 press conference. 2013 News & Observer file photo

From an editorial in Tuesday’s Winston-Salem Journal:

It’s unfortunately not surprising to hear that a federal criminal grand jury is investigating expensive contracts for high-ranking employees at the state Department of Health and Human Services. It remains to be seen whether the spending spree during former DHHS Secretary Aldona Wos’ tenure was illegal. But it was definitely wasteful and wrong.

The News & Observer reported last week that U.S. attorneys served subpoenas in July, demanding that DHHS turn over records related to employees including Wos, who resigned several days after the subpoenas were served; Les Merritt, a former state auditor who was hired to be the chief financial officer for DHHS’s mental-health division; Thomas L. Adams, who briefly served as chief of staff to Wos; Joe Hauck, who was a senior adviser to Wos; and Angeline Sligh, a former DHHS manager.

What a mess – and this from people who were supposed to be repairing the state’s health-care system. In the meantime, some of North Carolina’s most vulnerable still have to do without adequate health care.

In 2013, Merritt was paid $52,000 for supposedly working 200 hours — that’s $260 an hour, making him the highest-paid hourly employee working on a personal services contract in state government that year, the Raleigh paper reported.

Hauck was also highly compensated, after taking a leave from his regular job as an executive in Wos’ husband’s company. He worked for Wos for 11 months — extended from an original two-month contract — and was paid $310,000, which was about $50,000 more than the annual salary of the agency’s highest-paid doctor, according to the Raleigh paper.

Sligh, who supervised the replacement of North Carolina’s Medicaid billing system, was accused by state auditors of wasting more than $1 million and hiring people with whom she had personal connections, including friends and members of her church. She also managed to have her salary raised 25 percent, to $135,000, the same as the governor’s, the News & Observer reported.

Whatever the federal probe’s outcome, we hope the DHHS is on a better track under new head Richard Brajer. Some of our most vulnerable citizens deserve better.