New Oklahoma health department leader says finances grim


By Sean Murphy - Associated Press



NORMAN (AP) — The Oklahoma State Department of Health has suffered from financial mismanagement stretching back more than five years and needs an immediate infusion of $30 million from the Legislature just to meet payroll for the next few months, the agency’s new director warned.

Gov. Mary Fallin’s top finance official, Preston Doerflinger (DOR’-fling-ur), delivered the grim financial picture while flanked by workers at the Cleveland County Health Department in Norman.

Doerflinger says health department officials for years improperly juggled money between agency accounts and expanded the agency’s mission and operations beyond its funding levels. He said agency officials borrowed money across funds, kept accounting periods open for multiple years and improperly spent money on new programs that should have been used to restore previous expenditures.

A series of scheduled employee furloughs at the agency will continue, and Doerflinger said it’s likely that the agency will be forced to lay off some of its work force.

“One of the reasons why we got into this position is because of mission creep and not being able to afford expansion in those areas,” Doerflinger said. “We are in a situation where we can’t afford to be everything to everyone.”

Doerflinger said the $30 million he’s requesting for the agency would allow him to make payroll for the next several months and stop the growth of its current deficit.

State Auditor and Inspector Gary Jones said Monday two certified public accountants, a director overseeing the investigation and several other employees are working on the audit.

“It’s kind of an all-hands-on-deck type thing,” Jones said.

Jones said he expects the audit to be complete by the end of February.

Both Jones and Doerflinger said it’s too early to determine if any of the financial mismanagement was criminal in nature, but Attorney General Mike Hunter has asked Jones to conduct an investigative audit that could lead to criminal charges.

The health department initially requested an audit last month after Commissioner Terry Cline and senior Deputy Commissioner Julie Cox-Kain reported “a budget and operating cash shortfall” since the start of the fiscal year on July 1. Cline and Cox-Kain resigned last week after the Board of Health accused them of financial mismanagement. Cline also stepped down as Fallin’s health secretary.

Almost 1,500 agency employees are being furloughed without pay one day for each two-week pay period to reduce expenses.

By Sean Murphy

Associated Press

comments powered by Disqus