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Hundreds rally for group homes

About 200 group home residents, operators and advocates for disabled people rallied outside the Legislative Building on Wednesday to push for money to keep the homes open next year.

On Jan. 1, hundreds of group homes are in danger of closing because a stream of federal money helps keep them running is slated to be cut off. The state says about 2,000 people with mental disabilities will no longer meet new standards for personal care services funded by Medicaid.

Before the speeches started Wednesday, the crowd chanted "Save our homes," and "Our life is in your hands."

Sweating mental health

State officials were grilled Tuesday over how the first local mental health office to change its operations under a new state law stumbled out of the gate.

Western Highlands Network, the first local mental health office to become a managed care organization -- essentially an insurance company working with state and Medicaid money to cover mental health treatment -- is not doing well. Its CEO was fired a few weeks ago after his office reported a $3 million deficit in its first six months.

All counties in the state are set to be covered by managed care organizations by January.  Under this system, the local mental health offices get a set amount of money to buy treatment for people with mental illnesses.

Legislators seem worried. Chairmen of the legislature's mental health oversight committee met privately with local mental health chiefs for status reports before the public meeting started. State officials faced intense questioning from perturbed lawmakers.

Acting mental health director named

Jim Jarrard, deputy director of the state Division of Mental Health, has been named acting director, replacing Steve Jordan, who died last week when his bicycle collided with a truck in North Raleigh. Jarrard has been in the deputy position since October 2010, and has worked in the division since 1994..

“The Department suffered a devastating loss with Steve’s death and we will miss his energy and passion for mental health services and the people we serve,” state Health and Human Services Secretary Al Delia said in a statement released Friday morning.  “Jim Jarrard is a knowledgeable and respected leader who I am confident will continue to lead the Division in a positive direction.”

The division comprises services for mental illness, developmental disabilities and substance abuse.

DHHS leadership changes

Gov. Bev Perdue announced the merger of two divisions within the state Department of Health and Human Services and DHHS leadership changes.

The Division of Public Health and the Office of Rural Health and Community Care are merging. Dr. Laura Gerald, former head of the Health and Wellness Trust Fund, will be the new state health director and run the Division of Prevention, Access and Public Health Services.

She is the former director of the Health and Wellness Trust Fund, and led Perdue's Eugenics Compensation Task Force. After the legislature dissolved the Health and Wellness Trust Fund, Gerald went to work as a temporary adviser to DHHS Secretary Lanier Cansler on Community Care of North Carolina.

Dr. Jeff Engel, public health director, will become a special adviser on health policy, reporting to new DHHS secretary Al Delia. Engel has been public health director since 2009.

Shift at state health agency comes at important time

The large and complex state Department of Health and Human Services is getting a new leader in a few weeks, and as usual for that agency, big projects are under way and big problems are unresolved.

But at the end of this month, Lanier Cansler (pictured at right) will hand control of DHHS to Al Delia, Gov. Bev Perdue's senior adviser for policy. DHHS, with 17,000 employees, is one of the state's largest agencies. Delia, who as acting secretary will keep his $160,000 salary, says he comes to the position with insights into DHHS gained through his work for Perdue. Cansler makes $120,363.

He called the job "a challenge" but said he wasn't worried about stepping into the role. "I really don't have any concerns about my ability to do the job," he said. "I've been heavily involved in major issues" involving DHHS. Read more here.

Spontaneity of innovation, meet govt

The creative and instinctive nature of innovation will now be channeled through, yes, a government agency.

Gov. Bev Perdue, by executive order, established the state's first Innovation Council on Monday. The group's mission is to: coordinate public and private investment to promote innovation, help move ideas faster from the lab to the marketplace and improve the collaboration between business, academia and government.

Perdue announced the creation of the council during a visit to the Wake Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine in Winston-Salem.

The council will be chaired by Al Delia, senior adviser to Perdue, and Steve Nelson, managing partner of the Wakefield Group.

(Dome wanted to provide a link to the Wakefield Group's Web site but found the site was down and has been for months. Nelson said the firm was receiving too many unsolicited business offers over the Internet and doesn't need to market itself on the web.)

UPDATE: Click the attachment to see the council's members.

Innovation Council Appointees.txt

Changes at the top

Gov. Beverly Perdue has shifted two of her top aides but has not added any staff or changed any salaries.

Al Delia, Perdue's policy director, moves over to an as-yet-untitled role under Chief of Staff Zach Ambrose, overseeing parts of Perdue's office.

Michael Arnold, deputy policy director, moves up to the top spot.

Press Secretary Chrissy Pearson said the moves were aimed at improving the office's operation.

"We’re streamlining operations for better internal communications," Pearson said, "and better external outreach."

New Perdue adviser homeward bound

Gov. Beverly Perdue's new communications and policy adviser says he wanted to come home.

Greensboro native and Appalachian State grad Pearse Edwards said he has enjoyed working for Washington Gov. Christine Gregoire -- both governors are Democrats -- but he wanted to move back to North Carolina.

“I'm not a big fan of winters in the northwest,” Edwards said Thursday.

He expects to play a role similar to what he has done for Gregoire, helping integrate the communications, policy and government relations functions of the governor's office.

“Policy is complex,” he said. “There’s a real need for the people to get a better understanding of what government is doing.”

Perdue already has a communications director, David Kochman; a senior adviser for government relations, Andy Willis, and a policy director, Al Delia. Their salaries are $115,200, $153,000 and $160,000 respectively.

Edwards, who will be paid $136,000, will not supervise those staffers. They will still report to Chief of Staff Zach Ambrose.

More after the jump.

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