The Oklahoma State Department of Health (OSDH) is supposed to help make Oklahomans healthier. This government office does so by investing in programs that help treat and prevent illnesses. That’s a big task for a state our size, but the department has always seemed to operate within the limits of its budget. Now, an OSDH budget scandal could shake the foundations of our state, and it could leave the health needs of people with disabilities unattended.
Will the OSDH Budget Scandal Hurt People with Disabilities?
On October 30th, mandatory furloughs were expected to start for employees at the OSDH. These furloughs were scheduled to last until June 2018 and up to 250 layoffs were also expected. This was due to a $10 million shortfall in the state agency that no one could quite account for, and due to that apparent mismanagement of funds, Terry Cline—the state’s health commissioner—resigned.
Cline was also serving as Governor Falin’s secretary of health and human services, a position he also resigned from. Cline’s deputy commissioner, Julie Cox-Kain also resigned. In their place, the Governor has appointed Steven Buck—from the Office of Juvenile Affairs—to occupy Cline’s vacant cabinet seat while Preston Doerflinger has been named interim health commissioner.
Can The Budget Be Fixed?
Since his appointment, Doerflinger has been conducting a deep audit of how the Department of Health has run while under the command of Cline. So far, what he has discovered has been shocking. Funds from accounts within the agency have been borrowed and traded to give the appearance that the agency had a balanced budget. However, for the past seven fiscal years, OSDH has hired more and more employees while the agency’s budget has steadily decreased. This left a gap in the department’s budget, which was first estimated to be $10 million. Now, Doerflinger’s audit may turn up more disturbing discoveries.
If the department does not get $30 million from state lawmakers before November 29th, then the agency won’t be able to pay its employees. Worse yet, the state may also be on the hook to repay federal funds that were misappropriated. This could mean the end of several OSDH programs that people all over the state rely on.
OSDH not only regulates the licensing of certain healthcare professionals in the state, they also run food service programs as well as operating a registry for Nurse Aids in Oklahoma. This means that not only could people with disabilities loose healthcare services through this latest scandal, they may lose a resource to track down the help they need to live on their own.
The Tulsa disability attorneys at Troutman & Troutman will continue to monitor this latest development and others related to the 2017 Oklahoma budget crisis.