DHHS woes continue

Mar. 02, 2014 @ 05:25 PM

An expensive consultant hired to help the troubled state Department of Health and Human Services money may have had a substantial impact.

Or not.

What is clear – and why it is, charitably, hard to tell exactly what he did – is that Joe Hauck left precious little work product behind.

Months after the Associated Press filed a public records request seeking, as the wire service reported Sunday “all plans, proposals, documents, emails and any other work product authored by Hauk,” DHHS finally responded last week.

The department produced, the AP’s Michael Biesecker reported, “a pair of memos totaling little more than three double-spaced pages. The agency also provided spreadsheets detailing cuts made in state funding to such nonprofit charities as food banks and pre-kindergarten programs that were reportedly developed at Hauck’s direction.”

Hauck’s hiring as a consultant has been controversial from the start. Hired with no bid process, he is a vice president of a company owned by DHHS Secretary Aldona Wos’s husband. For his 11 months at such tasks as identifying non-profit food banks to be de-funded, the state paid him $310,000 – more, in Biesecker noted, than the annual salary of the department’s highest-paid employee.

In those 11 months, apparently Hauck had little communication with others in the department, at least by email. Those would have been public records, and none was turned over the AP.

Floyd McKissick, a Democrat and state senator from Durham, responded critically to what the state turned over.

“I’m sorely disappointed there is so little work product based upon the state spending over $300,000 for his services,” McKissick told the AP. “One would logically assume there would be a mountain of paperwork he would have been involved in…”

The department defends Hauck’s work. “Working in close collaboration with the secretary, Joe Hauck was involved in many strategic decisions and he led many reform efforts within DHHS,” said department spokesman Kevin Howell. 

This latest development over Hauck’s service is just the latest disappointing news out of DHHS.  Only monumental efforts to clear up a backlog of unprocessed claims for food-stamp benefits under the SNAP program kept the state from losing federal money. The feds warned the department about the backlog in December and then, early this year, threatened the cutoff if the backlog-- -which had worsened since the first warning – weren’t eliminated.

Seven physician groups have sued over the disastrous rollout last July of a new Medicaid payment system that left many practices unpaid for months. Last month, the agency mailed personal information about some 49,000 child Medicaid recipients the wrong addresses.

Last month, Charlotte Observer columnist Fannie Flono noted that Wos had declined the job’s $135,000 annual salary and that her “wealth allows her to work for the state for a salary of $1 a year.”

Noted Flono wryly, many in the state may have concluded “you get what you pay for.”

Indeed. Gov. Pat McCrory has stood by Wos, but perhaps the time has come to spend $134,999 more a year and bring in a new department head.