Roughly 150 positions eliminated from state health department

OKLAHOMA CITY — Friday marked the final day for roughly 150 state health employees as part of a plan first announced in December.

The Reduction-In-Force (RIF) plan, announced on December 8, meant 150 classified positions would be eliminated from the Oklahoma State Department of Health at the end of Friday.

“On a personal level, it’s sad. Not only for the employees, their families are impacted. They won’t be going to work on Monday, a lot of them,” said Tom Dunning with the Oklahoma Public Employees Association.

According to OSDH, the number of positions affected differs from the announced RIF plan in December 2017 due to resignations and retirements that have occurred after the original plan was issued.

Director of Communications Tony Sellars told News 4 most of the positions are spread among the 68 county health department locations around the state, and there will not be any closures.

“As part of the staff reductions, reassignments have been made that are critical to maintain operations at some county health department locations,” a statement reads. “The moves will ensure that those county health departments will be able to provide clinic services while reducing the cost of their operations.”

Dunning says some of the members in his organization are among those who lost their jobs Friday.

“The process has been going on since December, so it’s not like this is a shocking day. Everybody knew, but there’s some finality for them,” he said. “They’re having going away parties for a lot of their folks who are leaving things like that.”

Joleyne Temple, a nurse with the Garvin County Health Department for 28 years, was among those people.

In a Facebook post, Temple described the past few days as a long week of sad goodbyes.

“28 years of service to be reduced to this. And we wonder why the state is in the shape it’s in with rankings, economy, poverty, infant mortality, etc. Today the number of people on the unemployment line increases by 200+. I hope the ones responsible for this soon lose their freedom and experience at least a piece of the devastation that those today are feeling. This is more than life changing but I take the best with me. My friendships made along the way. Now I’m off to take care of me and my home and my people. I’m needed there and will await my next adventure and new career path. Thank you to everyone who has molded me into the person and nurse I am today,” she said.

The RIF plan was announced around the same time lawmakers began looking into the agency’s finances. The department’s top officials, along with State Auditor Gary Jones, testified before a special House committee in December led by Rep. Josh Cockroft, R-Wanette.

"I don't know what else I could have done at this point in time," Jones told reporters in December. "Someone said why didn't you reach out to anybody else? I did. I reached out to one of the board members."

According to OSDH, the plan being implemented provides for at least one Registered Nurse and one Administrative Tech in all 68 OSDH county health department locations. We're told all employees whose service ended Friday will be entitled to 18 months of paid employee-only insurance premiums calculated at the 2018 rate. In addition, job placement assistance will be provided by the Oklahoma Office of Workforce Development.

"Combined with a previous RIF affecting 37 unclassified positions in December, the total overall is $3 million dollars, which includes FICA, unemployment benefits and the payment of accrued annual leave," a statement reads. "The elimination of these positions will result in an annual savings of approximately $10.5 million dollars, minus the RIF costs the first year.​"