Oklahoma auditor says agency ‘concerns’ prompt audit request

October 31, 2017
FILE- In this Oct. 13, 2014, file photo, Oklahoma's health commissioner, Dr. Terry Cline, right, speaks during a news conference in Oklahoma City. Cline has resigned as Oklahoma's state health commissioner after the board accused him of mismanaging the health department's finances. The board voted at an emergency meeting Monday, Oct. 30, 2017, to accept Cline's resignation and appoint its finance secretary, Preston Doerflinger, as interim commissioner. (AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki, File)

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — Financial concerns that prompted Oklahoma’s health commissioner to ask for a state audit of his agency also led to the commissioner’s resignation, Oklahoma’s top auditor said Tuesday.

A team of state auditors has been reviewing the Health Department’s financial records since the agency requested the audit last month, Auditor & Inspector Gary Jones said. A Sept. 28 letter from the department’s health commissioner, Dr. Terry Cline, a its senior deputy commissioner, Julie Cox-Kain cited dwindling resources and “a budget and operating cash shortfall” since the start of the fiscal year on July 1. Both of those officials resigned Monday after the Board of Health accused them of mismanaging department finances.

“There are various concerns,” Jones said. “There are issues about the amount of resources they have available.”

The audit is not yet complete and officials say they don’t yet know exactly how the department’s financial troubles occurred, but the board held Cline and Cox-Kain responsible as the leaders of the agency. The board named Preston Doerflinger, Gov. Mary Fallin’s finance secretary, to lead the agency.

The board is working to ensure that the agency “continues its important work in the area of public health,” board President Martha Burger said in a statement.

But the financial shortfall is forcing the agency to cancel some health-related contracts and furlough or lay off hundreds of Health Department workers, agency spokesman Tony Sellars said.

The agency has canceled 25 contracts to reimburse federally qualified health centers for medical expenses not covered by insurance or other funding as well as a home-visitation program offered by Oklahoma Child Abuse Prevention, Sellars said. The cuts will save about $3 million.

Beginning this week, almost 1,500 employees at the agency will be furloughed without pay one day for each two-week pay period, he said. The agency previously announced plans to lay off about 250 employees, or 12 percent of its workforce, early next year.

Sellars said it wasn’t immediately clear what affect the furloughs and layoffs will have on the agency and the network of county health clinics it operates statewide.

“I can’t speculate as to the impact,” Sellars said.

Sellars said the agency’s state funding has been cut about 30 percent since 2009, but officials believe the money problems stem from other issues. The state budget for the current fiscal year included about $60 million for the agency, about 16 percent of the department’s total budget. More than half of the agency’s total operating budget of $393.5 million comes from federal funds, he said. How the agency has used its federal funding will be an important part of the audit.

“We’ve got to account for everything,” Sellars said. “That’s why the auditors are coming in, to really pinpoint.”

Jones said the audit is not expected to be complete until February.

Fallin said in a statement that she has asked the state attorney general’s office and the Office of Management and Enterprise Services to assist with the auditor’s review.

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