RALEIGH, NC (WNCN) - Dr. Aldona Wos, the head of the Department of Health and Human Services, announced Wednesday she is resigning in a news conference that brought an emotional response from her boss, Gov. Pat McCrory.
Wos is the second Cabinet member to resign suddenly in recent weeks. Tony Tata, who heads the Department of Transportation, also resigned recently. McCrory said Wos wanted to return to Greensboro to spend time with her family. Taking her place will be Rick Brajer, who has a background in the private sector.
McCrory called Brajer a "perfect fit." He noted that Brajer has a masters in business from Stanford University.
But the press conference was full of praise for Wos, with McCrory effusive in his praise for her despite the fact that her tenure has been marked with controversy.
"I asked her and recruited her because I knew there was no one better than Dr. Aldona Wos," McCrory said. "I knew she had a passion and enthusiasm second to none."
McCrory praised Wos for helping to reform Medicaid and saving the the state thousands of dollars overall.
"She has strengthened our Medicaid program and put patients first," McCrory said.
Wos' work was widely criticized in the media early as she took control of the sprawling DHHS operation. An employee of her husband's business got a lucrative state contract and Wos hired two 24-year-olds with ties to McCrory's campaign to top salaries and senior positions.
North Carolina also struggled with the roll-out of NC Fast, the food stamp processing system, and the USDA sent the state a stern letter in 2014.
The 2013 rollout of NCTracks, the Medicaid billing system, was marked by problems, and vendors complained loudly to a legislative committee looking into the issues.
McCrory said Wos took much of the blame for problems at NCTracks and NC Fast, which he said dated back to previous administrations. But he said she worked tirelessly to address the problems, which, McCrory said, have largely been fixed.
"You're not seeing those headlines any more," he said.
"She took all the hits. She took all the bullets," McCrory said. "What she did was she solved the problem."
At the end, McCrory started to introduce Wos but stopped, got emotional and Wos handed him a tissue as the audience chuckled. McCrory gave Wos a plaque for the Order of the Long Leaf Pine.
Wos said, "I stayed longer than I expected. But I stayed because of the importance of making sure the department is strong and sustainable."
She spoke of the long days she has worked, and said, "My work has required of me to stay almost two years and eight months away from my family. It is simply time to go home."
As for Brajer, McCrory had high praise for his devotion to public service.
"He wants to leave this state a better state for his kids here," McCrory said.
Brajer said he'd be honored to accept the position and said it would be "a privilege" to join the administration.
Brajer said the state cares deeply about its most vulnerable citizens, but the rapid growth of needs for that population has "driven out" the ability to implement reforms.
Brajer said he wants "to build upon" the reform efforts begun by Wos.
"I'm motivated as all get-out by this job," Brajer said.