Oklahoma State Department of Health is facing a more than $10 million budget shortfall. News9

The day after the state Health Department announced it would be cutting personnel costs due to a budget shortfall, the agency requested an audit.

Commissioners from the Oklahoma State Department of Health sent a letter to state Auditor and Inspector Gary Jones on Thursday asking for a special audit of the agency’s budget and operations.

The letter, obtained by The Frontier, requests an audit of the following:

  • Review of cash draw procedures
  • Cash management and/or agency “borrow” procedures
  • Timely closure of prior budget periods
  • Corrective actions and timeliness of resolution of payroll not posting to internal agency budgets
  • Management of outstanding obligations
  • Timely accounts receivable
  • Budget reconciliation to available revenue

The Health Department reported an almost 30 percent decrease in its budget since 2009 and is facing a more than $10 million shortfall. It is now exploring ways to shore up its budget and reduce spending.

On Wednesday, the agency announced employees must take an unpaid day off every two weeks and that a voluntary buyout plan is in the works.

In an email sent to employees announcing the measure, Health Department officials said the agency is facing “the most challenging economic climate we have ever faced.”

The email says the furlough will continue until long-term budget reductions are implemented but is not expected to last beyond June 30, 2018.

“We are doing this to preserve our operations and ensure we continue to deliver valued public health services to the citizens of Oklahoma,” the email states.

The furlough, which begins Oct. 30, affects employees making more than $35,000 per year.

It’s unclear how the furlough will affect the agency’s day-to-day operations, said agency spokesman Tony Sellers.

“We’re still evaluating the impact the furlough will have,” Sellers said. “We’re still going to attempt to do day-to-day services.”

The furlough comes in response to declining state and federal funding, Sellers said. The cost-cutting measure had been in the works for “several weeks,” he said.

Local health services could be affected by the reduction in the agency’s workforce, Sellers said. The department may eliminate walk-in clinics and instead make them appointment-only, regionalize some clinic services to the larger counties, and reduce the number of days the clinics are open, Sellers said.

Federal funds account for nearly 60 percent of Health Department funds, said Julie Cox-Kain, the agency’s senior deputy commissioner.

“We are grateful to the Legislature and governor for trying to minimize budget cuts to the department. Between fiscal years 2017 and 2018 the Oklahoma State Department of Health only received a 2.8 percent reduction in state funds,” she said in an email. “However, the cumulative annual reduction in state appropriation to the OSDH since 2009 is 29.24 percent.”

A plan for voluntary buyouts is still in the works but will likely be finalized within the next month, Sellers said. Depending on how many employees take the buyout, further personnel costs may have to be evaluated.

The Health Department’s cost-saving measures are independent of any additional cuts the Legislature makes, Sellers said.

Frontier reporter Clifton Adcock contributed to this story.


As special session is put on hold, health department pushes for cigarette tax