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Fiscal Mismanagement At Health Department Dates Back To 2011, Doerflinger Says

Preston Doerflinger speaks at the Cleveland County Health Department on November 6, 2017.
Jacob McCleland
Preston Doerflinger speaks at the Cleveland County Health Department on November 6, 2017.

The new head of the Oklahoma State Department of Health says the agency has been spending more than its annual revenue since 2011.

Interim Commissioner Preston Doerflinger said Monday that accounting tricks were used to move money between different accounts.

“This was done by employing an intricate system of moving costs between multiple funds, creating abusive split funding mechanisms for various costs, borrowing across funds, creating internal credit facilities with revolving funds, keeping accounting periods open for multiple years and utilizing various reimbursement mechanisms to claw forward for additional programs, rather than properly restore monies which had been received as reimbursement for agency expenditures,” Doerflinger said.

Speaking at a press conference at the Cleveland County Public Health Department, Doerflinger said these financial actions were taken so the agency could undertake “costly programs” that stretched beyond OSDH’s core public health initiatives. The budgets that were presented to the state health board and to the Office of Management and Enterprise Services appeared to be balanced.

In the short term, OSDH is short nearly $30 million, and may not be able to make payroll by November 29. Doerflinger has requested a $30 million supplemental appropriation from the legislature.

“We cannot allow this agency to fail. This agency is the health safety net for the state and its citizens. The Oklahoma State Department of Health serves every citizen from birth to death and countless times throughout someone’s life,” Doerflinger said.

Even if lawmakers appropriate $30 million to the department,  Doerflinger says furloughs for some employees will continue, and layoffs are likely.

Doerflinger said he could not speculate about how much money is unaccounted for since 2011. He said he is focused on the immediate needs of the agency, while state auditors continue their investigation.

“On one hand, we are performing emergency surgery on a ruptured aorta in the immediate, while at the same time, treating a long-term disease process involving multi-organ system failure. So we’ve got two different things here,” Doerflinger said.

Former commissioner Terry Cline and senior deputy commissioner Julie Cox-Kain resigned last Monday. The agency’s general counsel and business planning director also departed last week.

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Jacob McCleland spent nine years as a reporter and host at public radio station KRCU in Cape Girardeau, Mo. His stories have appeared on NPR’s Morning Edition and All Things Considered, Here & Now, Harvest Public Media and PRI’s The World. Jacob has reported on floods, disappearing languages, crop duster pilots, anvil shooters, Manuel Noriega, mule jumps and more.
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