New State Department Of Health Commissioner Named

Friday, September 13th 2019, 6:32 pm
By: Aaron Brilbeck

After a $30 million scandal leading to almost 200 layoffs in 2017, the State Department of Health finally has a permanent commissioner. 

Gary Cox has more than 40 years of public health experience directing the Tulsa Health Department and the Oklahoma City-County Health Department. But taking over the reins at the troubled State Department of Health could be his biggest challenge.

The State Department of Health laid off almost 200 employees and asked the legislature for a $30 million emergency appropriation after it claimed to have mismanaged funds.

An audit later found the money was being stashed in a slush fund.

Since then, the department has been run by interim leaders.

Governor Kevin Stitt this week appointed Gary Cox to the position.

“Gary’s a seasoned public health professional. Having coming from Oklahoma City-County Health and having previously served a similar role in Tulsa, no one better positioned in the state to really take the helm of this position and really move it forward,” said Secretary of Public and Mental Health Jerome Loughridge.

Friday, Cox met with the governor and his health cabinet, including folks from TSET, OU and OSU.

“Pulling these folks together and saying here’s our objectives and here’s a pot of money. Let’s intelligently draw lines here. Everything that doesn’t contribute to the outcomes that we aim at we’re not going to do. Folks who are not on board with this we’re going to promote to citizen,” said Loughridge.

So, News 9 asked, does that mean the agency can expect more layoffs?

“What we’re aimed at is resources aimed at where it needs to be. Sometimes that’s more. Sometimes that’s less. But sort of a misappropriation of resource with objective has been really what’s gone on with the government,” said Loughridge.

Loughridge said the agency has to regain the public’s trust, and he said Cox will do that through communication and transparency.

“One of the hallmarks of what he’s done is open the books, let folks see. That’s more than just audit by the way. There’s being factual and then there’s being honest.  And what we’re after is being honest,” he said.

Although Cox started Friday, the position still requires Senate confirmation.