Interim Commissioner Bates Response to Audit and Grand Jury Reports
“As the leader of this organization, I am committed to restoring public confidence in our agency and I am confident that everyone currently in a position of leadership at OSDH shares that commitment. Steps to address many of the items outlined in the reports are already underway and we will continue working to follow these recommendations.
I want to express my appreciation to the Attorney General, State Auditor and Inspector as well as members of the Multi-County Grand Jury for their hard work and thoroughness of the reports issued this week. These reports are an important step in giving this agency the clarity necessary to move forward.
I also want to express appreciation for the help and guidance offered by the Office of Management and Enterprise Services (OMES). They have supported us in a variety of areas critical to our fiscal affairs, including a discussion of IT projects and providing additional training to our financial staff. We have completed the establishment of a restricted fund at OMES for Ryan White rebate funds, which was included in these recommendations. OMES has also been conducting a payroll test environment to ensure a successful transition to the statewide accounting system. This transition will be key in returning Program Funds Recovered to their appropriate location and improving the validation of employee’s time and effort funded by different revenue sources.
Since arriving almost eight weeks ago, we have actively searched for a permanent CFO and controller. Each position has been posted publicly, but it has proven difficult to attract candidates with the skills and experience needed to lead our financial team. With these recommendations in hand, we will continue to aggressively recruit qualified candidates to fill both critical positions.
During my initial days at the agency, I became concerned that people unnecessarily lost their jobs through the Reduction-In-Force (RIF) that was executed prior to my arrival. Those concerns were confirmed yesterday, and to the people and families impacted by the RIF, I am truly sorry. We have instituted a process to recall to employment numerous employees separated by the Reduction in Force (RIF) to meet critical staffing needs in county health departments.
In addition to the employees that were included in the RIF we have had 231 additional resignations since October last year, which has placed additional strain on our workforce. We are now working diligently to fill those positions. For example, we are holding a hiring event Monday, May 21st to fill much needed Nurse Surveyors for long term care and non-long term care medical facilities.
I have also recognized that we must improve our relationships with stakeholders across the state, including county health departments and local boards of health. We must make sure that local health department staffing patterns are structured to provide each county maximum flexibility with local resources. Partnerships in public health are critical to any success and we will be committed to improving our communication, rebuilding trust and creating better opportunities for staff and citizens.
In addition to these efforts, the agency has also been engaged in a zero-based budgeting process for the past month that has included in-depth analysis of all programs. This process is nearing its completion and when completed, it will allow us to demonstrate to the legislature and Governor the minimum number of state dollars needed to carry out the core functions that our agency is mandated to provide.
While I understand the frustration of recent events at this agency, the worst thing we could do now is to spend money without a strategic budget plan that identifies critical priorities and maximizes our resources to serve the best interests of public health in Oklahoma. Moving forward, we are not going to simply rebuild the old health department. Instead, we will use this situation to find additional efficiencies, improve financial controls and be better stewards of taxpayer dollars.
Internally, we are addressing concerns expressed about the atmosphere at OSDH. There must be an open and honest line of communication between agency leadership and all employees. We will continue to solicit ideas from every employee to help push us forward. I also have a strong commitment to legal review and adherence to the law. We are committed to engaging our General Counsel Office on all appropriate matters, and working to strengthen our Office of Accountability Systems and Internal Audit operations.
OSDH employees are dedicated and passionate public servants and during this turbulent time they have worked continuously to provide the important public health services that our clients have come to depend upon. I am honored to work with them as we carry out the mission of this agency.”