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Lena Chatmon, 21, prepares a meal for her fiance and sister, who live with her in a house in north Tulsa. Chatmon said potential employers were turned off by her criminal record.
Whitney Bryen / Oklahoma Watch

Like many other Oklahomans who have a criminal conviction, Lena Chatmon has struggled to rebuild her life since pleading guilty to motor vehicle-related and larceny charges in 2017.

Jackie Fortier / StateImpact Oklahoma

Kjelsea McDonald just finished her shift as a nuclear medicine technologist at the Seiling Regional Medical Center. She’s still wearing her teal scrubs at the Crooked Arrow Cafe during the dinner rush. She worked as a waitress here for years, including when she was a junior in high school — and pregnant.

A Preview Of The Big Issues StateImpact Is Watching In 2019

Jan 4, 2019
Teachers rally at the state capitol during the teacher walkout.
Jacob McCleland / KGOU

Twenty-nineteen means a new governor for Oklahoma and a fresh class of state legislators — nearly 40 percent of whom have zero political experience. It’s a new year, but the state government’s slate hasn’t been wiped clean.

Here’s a roundup of some of the biggest policy issues on deck for the upcoming year and legislative session.

Taylor Lott, of the Latino Community Development Agency in Oklahoma City, worked as a navigator assisting people with enrollment in the federal health-insurance marketplace. She says many people still need help because of confusion over the process.
Mashuir Rahaman / Oklahoma Watch

Oklahoma bucked expectations as enrollment on the federal health-care marketplace climbed to a record level for the upcoming year.

Dan Straughan, executive director of the Homeless Alliance stands in their day shelter in Oklahoma City during lunch. If the Medicaid work requirements are approved, it will mean more administrative costs for non-profits like his, which connects homeless
Jackie Fortier / StateImpact Oklahoma

This year the Trump Administration said it would support states imposing “community engagement” requirements on Medicaid. That means, for the first time in the program’s history, states can require people to work a certain number of hours to be eligible for the government health program for low-income Americans.

Former Firstep participant Dustin Misener was assigned to work on a demolition crew. After Misener was injured on the job, Firstep kept most of his first disability check and asked him to leave the program.
Brianna Bailey / The Frontier

Dustin Misener started using drugs in his early teens growing up in rural Oklahoma. By his 30s, he was battling an addiction to methamphetamine and had racked up multiple drug-related convictions in Oklahoma.

“I was just getting out there pretty bad,” Misener said.

Misener, 32, is a U.S. Army veteran. Now he works cutting grass and setting up stage equipment for concerts. His hands are lined and calloused from a life of hard work.

About 82,000 children in Oklahoma lack health insurance, ranking the state 48th in the nation.
Jackie Fortier / StateImpact Oklahoma

After a decade of improvement, a new study suggests the rate of uninsured children is increasing in Oklahoma.

Dr. William Yarborough, right, speaks with patient Richard Potts at the Oklahoma Pain and Wellness Center in Tulsa.
Jackie Fortier / StateImpact Oklahoma

William Yarborough walks across the hall from his office to an exam room. His Hawaiian shirt and matching khaki pants aren’t the typical doctor’s garb.

Oklahoma’s adoption of medical marijuana will be green in more ways than one: Retail dispensaries, processors, growing operations and tax agencies will have to work within a cash-only industry.

Jackie Fortier / StateImpact Oklahoma

The air medical field has grown tremendously since the 1980s. Air ambulances take patients to the nearest hospital, which often means crossing state lines. But a legal quirk means paying for a life-saving flight can lead to financial ruin. Congress is mulling a fix, but some air ambulance companies say it could have unintended consequences.

Josh Edelson / AP Images

Patients in Oklahoma will pay one of the highest tax rates for medical marijuana among the 30 states that currently offer it if State Question 788 is approved by voters this month, according to an Oklahoma Watch analysis.

Oklahoma Suicide Rate Up 36 Percent Since 1999

Jun 7, 2018
CDC’s National Vital Statistics System; CDC Vital Signs, June 2018. / Centers for Disease Control

Suicide rates are on the rise in Oklahoma and nearly every state, according to a new report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Between 1999 and 2016, suicide rates increased significantly in 44 states. Oklahoma is one of 25 states that saw rates climb more than 30 percent.

Jackie Fortier / StateImpact Oklahoma

Babies who begin life with a long hospital stay are especially vulnerable to secondhand smoke. That’s galvanized health officials at one children’s hospital to focus on laying aside stigma when they ask parentsa simple question: ‘Do you smoke?’

Paul Monies / Oklahoma Watch

A reported cash crisis at the Oklahoma State Department of Health that led to job cuts and an emergency injection of $30 million was more of a mirage than the real thing, a months-long grand jury investigation and audit found in separate reports released Thursday.

The state’s multicounty grand jury didn’t hand up any criminal indictments, but it did fault former top officials at the health department for creating a “slush fund” to pay for pet projects and years of financial mismanagement.

With Health Department News, Waves Of Disbelief Roll Across State

May 18, 2018
Oklahoma Watch

Justin Forney worked for the state Department of Health for 12 years as a public information officer, stationed in several county health departments, including Logan County.

Then, in the wake of a financial crisis that shook the department, Forney lost his job in March – the result of cuts of nearly 200 health department positions.

Forney is still unemployed. And on Thursday, as the news rolled out statewide that a grand jury had found the agency’s reported cash shortfall never happened, he felt a sense of shock.

Oklahoma Attorney General Mike Hunter and state Auditor and Inspector Gary Jones at a press conference announcing the grand jury’s findings.
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The six-month investigation into financial mismanagement at the Oklahoma State Department of Health is complete — and no criminal charges will be filed.

Ted S. Warren / AP Images

In June, Oklahomans will vote on State Question 788, a ballot initiative to legalize medical marijuana, and many people are asking – how has this worked in other states?

Who has legalized medical marijuana?

PDPics / Creative Commons CC0

Amid the celebrations and self-help resolutions, 2017 began in Oklahoma as it has in many other years: with a rash of people taking their own lives.

In the first week, there nine self-inflicted gunshot deaths, four hangings and a deliberate drug overdose, occurring in cities large and small. With those 14 deaths, the year was off to a familiar tragic start in a state that perennially ranks among the 10 worst in the nation in suicide rates.

Trevor Brown / Oklahoma Watch

The state will have to find another way to help fund graduate medical education by July 2019 if it wants to use Medicaid matching funds after the federal government denied the Oklahoma Health Care Authority’s latest bid to fix the program’s funding issues.

Jackie Fortier / StateImpact Oklahoma

It’s hard to get basic health care like shots and x-rays in rural Oklahoma. The federal government considers all but one of the state’s 77 counties to have a primary care shortage. The problem is driving a legislative effort to allow highly educated nurses to fill that gap — but doctors and nurse practitioners are butting heads on who is qualified to help.

Lindsi Walker sits behind a glossy wooden desk at Cordell Memorial, a hospital on Oklahoma’s western plains. She’s surrounded by pictures of her family — a stethoscope hangs around her neck.

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