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Morning Memo: McCrory defends DHHS, eyes S.C. business

McCRORY DEFENDS WOS: Gov. Pat McCrory has full confidence in Dr. Aldona Wos, the woman he chose to lead the Department of Health and Human Services, even while making a point to say he can not micromanage their hiring decisions. Democratic legislators are calling for a state audit of the department and an investigation into its hiring practices after several media reports over high-paying jobs going to former members of the governor's campaign staff, donors and an employee of Wos' husband. Read the story here.

DON'T FORGET: Inaugural Pints & Politics event today:The N.C. FreeEnterprise Foundation, a business-backed political research firm, is putting a little fun into the state capital’s favorite sport: politics. The inaugural Pints & Politics event will include discussion from Chris Sinclair, a Republican strategist at Cornerstone Solutions, and Tom Jensen, the head pollster at Public Policy Polling, a Democratic firm, about election outcome predictions. Free event but RSVP requested or 919-614-0520. Details: 5:30 p.m. Sept. 19, Natty Greene’s Brewing, 505 W. Jones St., Raleigh

*** Welcome to Dome's Morning Memo.

DHHS makes clear who fired former head of oral health program

Who Fired Dr. King?

The state Department of Health and Human Services wants to make clear who fired Dr. Rebecca King, former head of the state's oral health program.

It was Danny Staley, acting director of the Division of Public Health, who penned the letter of dismissal. Spokesman Ricky Diaz took issue with a Wednesday article that said DHHS Secretary Aldona Wos fired King.

Morning Memo: Lawmakers return for overrides; elections board hears appeals

Lawmakers return to Raleigh on Tuesday to consider overriding vetoes of two immigration and drug-testing-for-welfare-recipients bills. House Republican leaders may think they have enough votes, but Republican Gov. Pat McCrory has been fighting to the end to sway them, using new media to get his points across and relying on old-fashioned endorsements.

The governor isn't the only one using the veto-session to highlight legislative issues. ***Get more on it all below in today's Dome Morning Memo, along with a holiday weekend news roundup.***

DHHS Secretary Wos speaks on freedom, not health care, at women's club

The Wake Republican Women’s Club introduced Aldona Wos, the state Secretary of Health and Human Services, as its Thursday meeting’s keynote speaker, saying she would discuss national health care. But when Wos took to the lectern, she said she would not be able to speak on the topic. Instead she addressed the group as a “private citizen,” and told personal stories on the themes of “responsibility” and “freedom.”

“Democracy provides us the … responsibility to make choices,” she said. “Responsibility is too often overlooked. We must … say, ‘What are the facts, and what is the right thing to do?’”

Wos told the story of her move from Poland to the U.S., and the tyranny her father faced during World War II. She's shared the story before in The News & Observer. She didn't specifically compare living in communist Poland with the U.S. government, but talked generally about appreciating the freedom available in this country. She said Americans have a responsibility to educate and improve themselves.

A bodyguard prevented a News & Observer reporter from asking Wos any questions after the speech.

N.C. Black Caucus demands DHHS get food stamps to those seeing delays

The N.C. Legislative Black Caucus is asking the state to declare a state of emergency because food stamps recipients are seeing delays in receiving their money for groceries .

Senator Earline Parmon, a Winston-Salem Democrat, in a Tuesday statement urged the state agency in charge of food stamps, the Department of Health and Human Services, to get people their benefits by Friday.

Wayne Black, the state Department of Social Services director, said in an interview that the state doesn’t know when it’ll be able to get food stamp delays to stop, but that he, other DHHS employees and the county DSS offices are working as hard as they can to get the problem solved.

Some food stamps recipients are seeing delays because the state is implementing a new software system that will handle many social services cases once it’s fully installed: Child services, services for the elderly, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, Medicaid, food stamps and others.

DHHS internal audit office increases staff to address potential fraud, waste

The state Department of Health and Human Services will expand its Office of Internal Audit from eight to 40 employees, DHHS Secretary Aldona Wos announced Wednesday.

"The staffing for the Office of Internal Audit has not kept up with the growth of the Department and its budget," Wos said in a Wednesday press release. "In light of recent challenges in the Department, particularly with unexpected shortfalls in Medicaid, DHHS is improving internal accountability and oversight to ensure the most efficient and effective use of taxpayer dollars."

The Office of Internal Audit evaluates different areas in DHHS, examining information as directed by the department’s secretary.

The department will shift existing vacancies into the internal audit division, so the expansion will not create any new jobs.

DHHS emphasizes there's no abortion clinic crackdown

As The N&O reported Friday, the state Department of Health and Human Services has at least temporarily closed three abortion clinics in the past three months. Before this year, the state had only closed two clinics in 14 years.

DHHS says that’s a coincidence. This year has brought intense debate over a new law regulating abortion clinics, and top GOP officials were kept apprised of at least one of the closings. But state health regulators say they aren’t cracking down.

“As inspection reports show, when egregious violations that pose an immediate threat to patient health and safety are found, department inspectors do their job and act to protect North Carolinians from harm – regardless of politics and what is in the news,” DHHS spokesman Ricky Diaz said in an email Saturday. “There has been no change in policy or procedure, and there was no directive to increase inspections or closures of abortion facilties.”

Diaz notes that the Charlotte clinic closed earlier this year has reopened, and the other two – the Baker Clinic in Durham and Femcare Inc. in Asheville – can reopen if they correct their deficiencies.

The N&O story noted that the department characterized the closures as resulting from routine inspections. But Diaz felt that didn’t adequate emphasize the health agency’s denial of having a political agenda.

State suspends Asheville abortion clinic

The Department of Health and Human Services suspended the license of an Asheville abortion clinic Wednesday.

The suspension followed a routine survey of the clinic, FEMCARE, Inc.Regulators discovered 23 violations of existing rules, according to state release.

DHHS staff determined the violations revealed an imminent threat to the health and safety of patients.

Violations included failure to maintain anesthesia delivery systems, failure to ensure emergency equipment had weekly checks, failure to sweep and mop the operating floor and failure to have a director of nursing, among others.

This is the third license suspension of a North Carolina abortion clinic since May. Before May, the last suspension was in 2007.

Staff writer Caitlin Owens

Medicaid manager gets 25% pay hike after $237,500 in overtime

The Medicaid manager who made $237,500 in overtime over the last four years recently received a 25 percent raise.

Angie Sligh, the Medicaid Management Information System director, is now being paid an annual salary of $134,944, according to DHHS spokesman Brad Deen. State personnel records regularly obtained by The News & Observer show that her salary was listed as $107,944 on January 11, 2013.

Sligh received the raise as the State Auditor was wrapping up an investigation into overtime payments of $580,000 to Health and Human Services employees who don't normally qualify for overtime.

New director of NC Pre-K has advocated against early childhood education

The state's new director of child development and early childhood education apparently doesn't think too highly of early childhood education programs.

Dianna Lightfoot, whose appointment was announced Tuesday by Aldona Wos, Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services, is the president of the National Physicians Center.

A policy paper — signed by Lightfoot and two board members — on the nonprofit's website states that early childhood education programs "may actually be inferior to early learning opportunities at home."

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