New DHHS director looks ahead with consolidation

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GUILFORD COUNTY, N.C. -- As Guilford County's Departments of Public Health and Social Services consolidate into one entity, a new man is taking charge.

Joe Raymond left his job as DSS director in Forsyth County to become director of Health and Human Services in Guilford County.

After one week on the job, Raymond said he's still meeting people in both departments and developing a strategy for the consolidation moving forward.

"Everybody in the country knows sometimes access to services is difficult," Raymond said. "Sometimes folks don't get what they need. So there's a great deal of opportunity to think about even further co-location, further merging and integration of services, better coordination."

He said consolidation is "sweeping North Carolina" as about fifteen counties have already merged agencies similarly, and Guilford County is among at least a dozen currently giving it a try.

Both agencies serve in-need families and vulnerable populations, Raymond added, and he hopes they can work on strengthening prevention and broadening community partnerships.

Fox8's Carter Coyle asked if "finding efficiencies" during consolidation meant future layoffs. Raymond said he does not think that will be the case right now.

"There's enough normal turnover in a big agency that if we were to find efficiencies that allowed us to do more with less people, we'd be able to do that through eliminating vacant jobs," he said.

Raymond is no stranger to the statewide struggle with the NC Fast computer system, designed for food stamp nutrition benefit applications under the state's DHHS.

"It's nothing like it was four, five, six months ago. The food nutrition program is stable; their overdues are very low," he said.

Medicaid cases are a different story in many North Carolina counties. "I know we're down to about 8 or 900 overdues today [for Medicaid]. The target was for August 31. It appears today Guilford is totally on target for meeting that."

But concerns related NC Fast are not over.

"The next challenge is going to be what's called 'hard launch,' where all the Medicaid cases are put into the NC Fast system, at recertification, and we're all waiting to see the exact process the state will require. It's reason to be concerned. We need to get that right. We'll be looking at what kind of resource base we need to pull that off," he said, indicating they could need to hire temporary workers again to help out.

The former DSS Director resigned amid continuous food stamp backlog problems earlier this year.

Raymond is recruiting for that position in North Carolina and nationally, he explained, and hopes to have the new DSS Director in place by the end of October.
He said he made his expectations clear to DHHS staff. "Everything we do will be about honesty, transparency and ethical behavior. The message has already been sent out to everyone that that's how I operate. I actually do believe that's how this agency always operated. Yes, there were some problems. But the truth is 95% of everything that happens here every day goes extremely well."