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Officials testify on Oklahoma State Department of Health allegations

OKLAHOMA CITY - Three top officials in Governor Mary Fallin's executive branch began answering questions before a House committee investigating financial mismanagement at the Oklahoma State Department of Health.

In late October, an audit of the health department began after resignations of the commissioner and senior deputy commissioner.

Dr. Terry Cline and Julie Cox-Kain's resignations were accepted at an emergency meeting. A statement released by the board this fall read, in part, "the resignation of Commissioner Cline came on the heels of information received by the Board that OSDH is faced with an immediate financial loss predicated upon multiple years of over-expenditures and fiscal mismanagement."

The first to testify Monday morning was Preston Doerflinger, acting director of the department of health. He told the panel lawmakers part of the problem was the complex system of 'split funding' that is used to pay their employees.

"The vast majority of them have multiple sources that compromise with pay. They might have some grant money, they might have some other type of federal money, they might have state dollars," Doerflinger said.

The committee also invited Denise Northrup, acting director of the Office of Management and Enterprise Services. She testified the agency knew the department of health needed more money months ago, but it wasn't until Oct. 27 that the OMES met with state Health Department officials about the situation.

"It was at that meeting we discovered the problem was much more significant," Northrup said. "Furloughs were announced in September, which raised a red flag for the agency, because they had filed a balanced budget in July."

Part of the Doerflinger's testimony was met with criticism.

"You’re the secretary of finance and revenue, the director, and you’re acting like you didn’t know anything about this until one week before it down?" questioned Rep. Bobby Cleveland, R-Slaughterville.

"Did you?" Doerflinger answered. "What I'm telling you is we should all be mad, and we all had an obligation."

Rep. Kevin Calvey, R-Oklahoma City also voiced his concerns over the lack of documentation brought to the hearing by Doerflinger. Without them, Calvey said lawmakers were not able to base their questions off much.

"It certainly does raise the question of who, what, when and is there a conflict of interest involved? I don’t know the answers to that, nor will we know until documents are provided," he said. "Here’s the bigger question is, is this just the tip of the iceberg?"

Doerflinger maintained some of the requested documents were beyond the scope of the situation at hand. He also told the panel the agency had identified "bloat." They are currently reviewing internal investment of some programs that have been added without the necessary resource.

"Going forward, we will be evaluating everything that we do as an agency. There are things that are statutorily required to do. We are going to be prepared to discuss that list of items with the legislature," he said.

Just last Friday, the Department of Health announced the layoffs of 37 employees which would offset financial strains on the agency. When questioned about how many of the people losing their jobs in are county departments versus the central office, Doerflinger answered: "The majority are in the counties."

The third person to testify Monday was Chris Benge, chief of staff for Fallin. Like Doerflinger and Northrup, he testified he was unaware of the significant financial problems until October. Last week, all three state officials volunteered to appear.