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Five County Health Departments To Close Across Oklahoma July 1 Due To Budget Shortfall

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Five county health department locations in Oklahoma will close July 1 due to the state’s projected $1.3 billion budget shortfall. Deborah Nichols, chief operating officer at the Oklahoma State Department of Health, told The Oklahoman’s Jaclyn Cosgrove the closings are only a portion of the department’s cuts.

“We still expect to see a 10 to 19 percent reduction for fiscal year 2017, and that's on top of the cuts that we've already taken for fiscal year 2016,” Nichols said. Earlier this year, the health department cut $4.2 million from its budget, a 7 percent cut, as a result of the state revenue failure. The health department doesn't anticipate the Legislature will appropriate those dollars back into the health department's budget.

The Drumright location in Creek County, the Lindsay location in Garvin County, the Buffalo location in Harper County, the Beggs location in Okmulgee County and the Henryetta location in Okmulgee County are all closing for a total savings of about $360,000.

Residents needing services will have to drive farther to get to the next health department location, and employees of the closing locations may work at other locations. The health department also offered voluntary buyouts to its staff, Cosgrove reports:

The buyout included a $5,000 incentive, longevity payment, health insurance premiums paid for 18 months and termination leave. The buyouts cost the agency $2.3 million — $740,000 in state money, the rest federal money and revolving funds. Almost 90 people accepted, which will save the agency about $1.4 million in state dollars during the 2017 state fiscal year.

Some essential positions that were held by employees who took the buyouts will have to be filled, while other positions will be eliminated once they are empty. Additionally, the Health Department is in discussions with three undisclosed health department sites about further closings.

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