Interim State Health Commissioner Discusses Audit, Grand Jury Findings
OKLAHOMA CITY - The State Health Department is facing scrutiny after a grand jury report showed the agency misled the legislature about needing $30 million. The agency also unnecessarily cut jobs and services, according to the report.
To save money, the State Health Department unnecessarily cut funding to certain services, like child abuse prevention, saving roughly 900,000 dollars.
"That 900,000 dollars can only be used for child abuse work, and so we have to figure out the best way to deploy that money going forward,” said Interim Health Commissioner Tom Bates.
Bates said the $30 million in emergency funds granted by the legislature sits in an account untouched.
"30 million dollars, that's a large, large sum of money. So, the legislature isn't going to let the health department carry over 30 million dollars. Nor should they. So, they will make that decision as how to best utilize that money,” said Bates.
The legislature appropriated $54.8 million to the State Health Department for 2019. That’s a four percent increase from 2018.
“It's basically a flat budget. We got an increase to take care of some of the employee raises, state employee raises,” said Bates.
As for the 198 employees that were laid off and the 231 that have since quit, the agency will try to get some back.
"To make sure that those county health departments are delivering core health functions to our local communities,” said Bates.
So, what about the idea that there's some folks looking at a class action lawsuit based on these jobs?
“People will pursue legal remedies that they have available. I'm not going to comment on that,” said Bates.
Bates background does not qualify him for the job of health commissioner.
According to state statute, the commissioner must meet at least one of the following criteria:
1. Possession of a Doctor of Medicine Degree and a license to practice medicine in this state
2. Possession of an Osteopathic Medicine Degree and a license to practice medicine in this state
3. Possession of a Doctoral degree in Public Health or Public Health Administration; or
4. Possession of a Master of Science Degree and a minimum of five (5) years of supervisory experience in the administration of health services.
“I'm an interim commissioner and you're right. The statute does require that a person with a medical background be the commissioner of health,” said Bates. "They needed someone with a little bit different expertise to guide the agency through this time period. So, I'm here and I will do that."