RALEIGH — North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory’s health and human services secretary, who led the department to improved financial footing but was criticized by lawmakers for backlogged computer projects and pricey contractors, is leaving her job.
Dr. Aldona Wos announced her departure at an emotional news conference Wednesday with McCrory and her successor, aying she is stepping aside to spend more time at home and with her ailing mother. Wos was named DHHS secretary in early 2013 as McCrory’s term began and worked for $1 annually.
“You’ve been a public servant that did everything that we asked for, and exceeded my expectations,” said McCrory, who later became tearful in giving Wos a state award. Rick Brajer of Raleigh, a longtime health care company executive with no public sector experience, will take over Aug. 17.
A medical doctor, Wos said she is stepping aside after working longer than she anticipated in Raleigh. She said the improvement process for an agency that employs 17,000 workers and spends $18 billion in federal and state funds has been slower than she wanted and “truly painful” at times but she is pleased with her accomplishments.
While McCrory said Wos told him of her decision weeks ago, the announcement came the day after DHHS announced Medicaid, the department’s largest agency, recorded a $131 million cash balance at the end of the fiscal year. It was the second consecutive positive year-end balance after four previous years — most during Democratic Gov. Beverly Perdue’s tenure — of large shortfalls.
“We have stabilized and we have redirected the department and made significant progress,” Wos said at the Executive Mansion event. “I leave confident that we have built a solid foundation.”
Wos and her top lieutenants often were targets of her fellow Republicans at the legislature. The department was criticized for Medicaid enrollment backlogs under a computer system called NC FAST and unpaid claims to hundreds of doctors and hospitals through NCTracks, the first new Medicaid billing system in more 35 years.
NCTracks began under previous administrations and faced massive cost overruns. McCrory said Wos told him to expect some troubles when NCTracks came online in July 2013.
“She took a lot of heat — headlines every day with that and NC FAST,” McCrory said, but “now you’re not seeing those headlines anymore.”
Wos also faced scrutiny for the department’s hiring of high-priced contractors. One of those contractors, Joe Hauck, received $310,000 for 11 months as a department consultant. He had been working for a firm led by Wos’ husband, Louis DeJoy. Hauck and his wife were donors to McCrory, according to records. The department has provided little information about how he saved the state millions of dollars.
Sen. Ralph Hise, R-Mitchell, a frequent critic of DHHS, said Wos had “the most difficult job in all of state government” but is excited about the energy coming with Brajer. “There’s some positives that have been made over the last 2½ years but I guarantee you there’s a lot more we’ve got left to go,” Hise said.
Brajer is a former leader at health equipment companies LipoScience Inc. and ProNerve. He said his lack of public-sector experience won’t be a barrier to working in state government.
“I am motivated as all get out for this job,” said Brajer who will make $140,000 annually. “By faith, I believe that we’ll be demonstrating God’s love in action as we continue to improve the health of our most vulnerable citizens.”
Brajer’s first immediate challenge will be at the legislature, where Senate Republicans want to move the supervision of Medicaid out from under DHHS and under control of an independent board. McCrory opposes that move.
Wos’ departure is the second Cabinet loss for McCrory in one week. McCrory announced Transportation Secretary Tony Tata’s immediate resignation in a simple news release. Tata was leaving in part to focus on his career as an author.