RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) - The communications director for the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services is resigning.
Ricky Diaz's departure comes five days after he provided reporters false information about a privacy breach involving Medicaid cards for 49,000 children that were mailed to the wrong addresses.
Diaz announced his resignation Wednesday on Twitter, saying he is proud to be joining a small public affairs and media relations firm in Washington, D.C. The state agency was forced to clarify over the weekend that officials had learned of the Medicaid card problems days earlier than Diaz initially told reporters Friday.
Diaz, 24, was named to the senior level $85,000-a-year job in April, receiving a $23,000 raise after less than four months as a state employee. He previously served as spokesman for the 2012 campaign of Gov. Pat McCrory, as well as other Republican officials.
Diaz did not respond for a request for comment from The Associated Press on Wednesday but told The News & Observer of Raleigh that the timing of his departure has nothing to do with the recent missteps at the state health agency.
"It was an opportunity that presented itself and one that I can't pass up," Diaz told the newspaper. "I just wanted to get back into politics and this gives me the opportunity to work on campaigns around the country."
His resignation is effective Jan. 24.
Diaz's new job is with FP1 Strategies, which specializes in communications strategy and media placement for GOP campaigns. He will start work there next month, according to a release issued by the firm.
At DHHS, Diaz was a dogged defender of his boss, embattled Secretary Aldona Wos. He also oversaw the implementation of a campaign-style communications strategy, touting what were portrayed as the agency's successes even in the face of mounting evidence of problems.
An example was an Aug. 5 agency news release titled "NCTracks is On Track," about the implementation of problematic new $484 million computer software for processing Medicaid reimbursement claims.
While conceding there had been a few operational bumps with NCTracks since going live July 1, the release emphasized that the agency was quickly resolving the issues and quoted an enthusiastic medical provider as saying, "The system is great!"
But media reports later disclosed that the agency had been flooded with complaints from scores of doctors, dentists and hospital executives across the state who had not received tens of millions in payments for services provided to Medicaid patients. Some small Medicaid providers were forced to take out loans to meet payroll while waiting weeks, sometimes months, for the agency to process their claims.
Secretary Wos issued a statement Wednesday thanking Diaz for his eight months at the state agency.
"Ricky is a bright, energetic leader and a strong communicator," Wos said. "I thank him for his hard work and dedication, and his efforts to increase the efficiency and streamline the operations of the Office of Communications. His work will leave a lasting impression on the Department. We will miss him, but I know he will achieve great things working in our nation's capital."
Follow Associated Press writer Michael Biesecker at Twitter.com/mbieseck