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“It’s devastating, especially this time of year,” 37 employees laid off from health department

OKLAHOMA CITY - Several workers at the Oklahoma State Department of Health arrived to work to learn that they had been laid off on Friday morning.

"It's devastating, especially this time of year. There's never a good time for something like this," said Tom Dunning, with Oklahoma Public Employees Association.

Officials with the Department of Health say the move is to offset financial strains on the agency.

However, state leaders say years of financial mismanagement are now taking a toll on workers.

"Somebody was being dishonest to the legislature, to the people of Oklahoma and to those employees and we're going to demand some answers," said Rep. Kevin Calvey.

On Friday morning, several employees like Christie Rogers received the tough news.

Rogers told News 4 on social media that she worked in the Jackson County Health Department in Altus for almost three years. On Friday, she received the phone call that she no longer had a job.

Rogers joins 36 other employees who were laid from the department.

Dunning says these cuts will have an impact on everyone.

"They inspect nursing homes, they inspect the restaurant that we go eat to. So none of us are, we're all affected by the services that the health department provides," he said.

The Department of Health released the following statement:

"Over the past five weeks, I have met with Board members, legislators, individual staff, service area leaders and our Senior Leadership team to discuss our current financial situation, core programs and the need to reduce agency costs,” said Interim OSDH Commissioner Preston Doerflinger. “Strategically, we reviewed each one of these items along with the mandate to reduce our state appropriations and have made some extremely difficult decisions. I commend the staff engaged in this effort as we work to put the Oklahoma State Department of Health back on a solid financial foundation.”

That statement also noted that another 161 positions will be eliminated in March of 2018.

"I think going forward we need to make sure that there is good oversight of the finances of our state agencies for one. And second, we need to invest in our infrastructure, we need to provide the resources to provide services like at the health department or Department of Correction," Dunning said.

All employees whose service is ending Friday, as well as those whose service ends early next year, will be entitled to 18 months of paid employee-only insurance premiums, as well as a longevity payment for next anniversary date and their annual leave balance.

Job placement assistance will be provided by the Oklahoma Office of Workforce Development.

Rep. Chad Caldwell, chair of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Health, released the following statement:

"The layoffs announced today by the Oklahoma State Department of Health are not a commentary on the dedication or work of the individuals being affected. Instead, these layoffs were made necessary by the alleged misappropriation of funds by the agency’s previous leadership.

Even with the appropriation of an additional $30 million, an increase of almost 60 percent of their FY-18 budget, the dire financial situation the agency found itself in required an action of this type to begin the process of bringing the agency back into financial compliance. The Department of Health is a core function of our state government, but after years of mismanagement, drastic measures were necessary to ensure the services that Oklahomans have come to depend on will still be there when they need them.

Today’s news underscores the severity of the situation the agency is facing and reiterates the need for the House Special Investigation Committee to look deep into this problem and to find safeguards to prevent this catastrophe from repeating itself. That work begins Monday, and I look forward to the cooperation of all involved.

I appreciate the efforts by Secretary Doerflinger and his staff to keep the legislature informed of their ongoing efforts, and I was pleased to learn that furloughs for OSDH employees will end with the pay period ending December 23."