BY SHARON MARTIN
Questionable bookkeeping, ideology, and the corrupt practice of using tax dollars to reward politician’s friends and donors have taken their toll on Oklahoma’s healthcare system.
In the words of one health department employee, county offices are barely making it on a skeleton crew, and nurse practitioners are spread so thin that it’s affecting services.
This is the result of an alleged budget shortfall of $30 million, money later found in an audit. The bookkeeping boondoggle prompted the resignation of the Oklahoma State Department of Health [OSDH] commissioner. Then-Gov. Mary Fallin appointed Preston Doerflinger to be the interim commissioner, never mind that he already had a job.
Doerflinger asked for and received the $30 million required to meet payroll and other expenses. He also laid off 198 employees, including nurses and emergency response coordinators, to “lean up” the department, before he abruptly resigned.
Although almost 200 people lost their jobs due to an alleged lack of funds, he got a raise to cover his extra duties. The money found after an audit was little consolation to those who were laid off.
In June 2019, a couple of commissioners later, and with county health departments still short staffed, a new job posting made the rounds. The OSDH was looking to hire five Assistant Regional Administrative Directors at an annual salary of $72,000.
New bosses! Not nurses. Not emergency response coordinators. But, hey – county funds were going to pay for it.
County offices have reduced their office hours at the same time that the Legislature has stripped funding from Planned Parenthood clinics. Meanwhile, OSDH reports sharp increases in the number of syphilis, gonorrhea, and chlamydia cases. STD testing is just one of the things that county offices and Planned Parenthood clinics do.
Oklahoma is one of 14 states that still refuses to expand Medicaid. The nine federal dollars to Oklahoma’s one go elsewhere in the country, and five rural hospitals have closed because of funding shortfalls. Several more are on the verge of bankruptcy, including the one on which I depend in an emergency.
Are voters in this state OK with reduced access to healthcare? How do they feel about their tax dollars being used to create jobs for politicians’ friends and donors? Does anyone believe we are better off as a state when we ration healthcare?
Next time candidates ask you for your vote, ask them what they will do to expand access to healthcare in Oklahoma. If they don’t give you a satisfactory answer, tell them politely that you will be voting for someone else.