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“It is a sad day for state employees,” Oklahoma State Department of Health announces layoffs

Oklahoma State Department of Health

OKLAHOMA CITY – The Oklahoma State Department of Health announced that it is laying off 37 employees in an effort to reduce agency costs.

“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.”

The 37 employees laid off were located at the department’s central office and county health departments across the state. Officials say that 161 others will be notified later this month about impending layoffs in March.

“While extremely difficult, this action is another step to bring the agency more in line with current work responsibilities and core service delivery,” said Doerflinger. “Many of these positions involved duties that are already being performed or can be absorbed by other positions in the counties and central office.”

The reduction in force is expected to save the agency about $7.5 million.

“It is a sad day for state employees, especially those at the Oklahoma State Department of Health. Dozens of unclassified employees will be laid off today as the agency tries to cut costs because of the shortfall left by previous leaders’ mismanagement. We understand this is the first round of reductions to be made. If you are an OPEA member and receive a Reduction in Force (RIF) notice, please contact us. We are here to help as much as we can. OPEA stands with our fellow employees at OSDH and we are here for you as these layoffs occur,” the Oklahoma Public Employees Association said in a statement.

OPEA says the layoffs are a result of a mismanagement of funds by the department.

Last month, the Oklahoma State Department of Health requested an emergency $30 million from the legislature. Agency officials said without the money, vital services could be shut down and the agency could fail to meet payroll in the next few weeks.

After an initial assessment, Interim Health Commissioner Preston Doerflinger said he discovered, since 2011, the department has been annually overspending on programs it can’t afford.

The mismanagement flew under the radar as money was moved around through several internal systems to keep operations afloat.

“This shows that there is a need for a different level of visibility into agencies that receive federal funds,” Doerflinger said.