NOTE: This article has been updated to include information and quotes concerning whether the recent controversy over gender options in Oklahoma birth certificates was a factor in Dr. Frye’s decision to resign from his position as Oklahoma Commissioner of Health.
OKLAHOMA CITY (KFOR) – Dr. Lance Frye resigned from his position as Oklahoma’s Commissioner of Health, according to the Oklahoma State Department of Health.
The resignation was announced Friday afternoon in an OSDH news release. Keith Reed has been named Interim Commissioner of Health.
Frye started with OSDH in May 2020, a peak time of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“It has been an honor to serve Oklahoma and advance public health for all Oklahomans,” Frye said. “I admire the dedication, resilience and tenacity of the OSDH team. They have worked tirelessly over the last two years to ensure Oklahomans had access to not only COVID-19 testing, vaccinations and critical information, but to other life-saving services.”
The OSDH news release also included a statement from Gov. Kevin Stitt.
“Dr. Frye provided steady leadership during Oklahoma’s COVID response from his role in surge planning on the Governor’s Solution Task Force to guiding our vaccine rollout that was Top Ten in the nation as Commissioner of Health,” Stitt said. “With cases and hospitalizations down 60% in recent weeks, Dr. Frye has positioned the Oklahoma State Department of Health well to continue managing COVID effectively and I am grateful for his service to our state during an unprecedented time.”
Frye’s sudden resignation comes amid controversy at the State Capitol over gender options on birth certificates.
Kit Vivien Lorelied filed a lawsuit in August 2020 against OSDH for not allowing “non-binary” as a gender option in birth certificates. OSDH later agreed to settle the federal suit and change its practices, allowing Oklahomans to change the sex designation on their birth certificate if they obtain a court order from an Oklahoma court. A certified copy of the court order then must be given to the Oklahoma Office of Vital Records before the change is made, according to Nondoc.
Gov. Kevin Stitt, House Speaker Charles McCall and President Pro Tempore Greg Treat all condemned OSDH’s change to birth certificate gender options. Also, Sen. Micheal Bergstrom filed State Bill 1100 earlier this week. The bill aims to restrict Oklahoma birth certificate gender options to male and female.
Frye addressed the issue on Thursday, releasing the following statement:
“A legal settlement regarding birth certificate designations was reached in May by the prior attorney general’s office. The Oklahoma State Department of Health will work with the Governor and Attorney General’s office for input and counsel on next steps. Our responsibility is to maintain vital statistics, and we will continue to do so in accordance with the laws of Oklahoma. Should a challenge to the previous agreement be made, we will proceed accordingly.”DR. LANCE FRYE
KFOR spoke with Rachel Klein, Director of Communications for OSDH, on Friday evening. Klein said the birth certificate gender option issue was not a factor in Frye’s resignation.
“His decision did not have anything to do with that. He was not influenced by that decision,” Klein said.
Klein said Frye submitted his resignation letter on Friday.
“He decided to leave because he felt it was time to move on,” she said.
Stitt named Frye the Interim Commissioner of Health in May 2020 after the legislator did not confirm the governor’s appointee, Gary Cox, because of concerns over his lack of medical qualifications – Cox is a lawyer by trade – and his handling of money earlier in the pandemic.
Oklahoma statutes state that the State Commissioner of Health must meet one of the following qualifications:
- Possession of a Doctor of Medicine Degree and a license to practice medicine in this state;
- Possession of an Osteopathic Medicine Degree and a license to practice medicine in this state;
- Possession of a Doctoral degree in Public Health or Public Health Administration; or
- Possession of a Master of Science Degree and a minimum of five (5) years of supervisory experience in the administration of health services.
The Oklahoma Legislature confirmed Frye as Commissioner of Health in April 2021.
Frye was previously an interim department chair and professor of gynecology and obstetrics at the OSU Center for Health Sciences and the State Air Surgeon for the Oklahoma Air National Guard. He had already been assisting with the state’s COVID-19 response prior to his appointment.
Stitt said Frye played a key role on the Governor’s Solution Task Force, working with the National Guard and deploying with OSDH.
“I’m confident that our State Department of Health will be in great, great hands,” Stitt said at the time.
Frye had a medical practice that focused on gynecology and obstetrics until he joined the Air Force in 2005.
He was deployed in both operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom, serving in areas such as combat search and rescue and casualty evacuation.
Kevin Corbett, Secretary of Health and Mental Health, praised Frye’s leadership during the pandemic.
“I am grateful to Dr. Frye for stepping up during a very difficult time, to keep Oklahomans safe and develop a path for a future state of health in Oklahoma. It is an honor to be in public service, and the state owes him a debt of gratitude for giving his time. I would also like to thank current Deputy Commissioner Keith Reed for agreeing to serve as Interim Commissioner of Health while a search is underway,” Kevin Corbett, Secretary of Health and Mental Health, said.
Reed also lauded Frye.
“I’m grateful for the service Dr. Lance Frye provided during such a critical time in our state’s history,” Reed said. “In my tenure with OSDH, I have always admired the resilience of our staff and their commitment to remaining focused on serving Oklahomans. I look forward to continue working side-by-side with them as we continue to move forward.”
OSDH has also had four State Epidemiologists since the COVID pandemic began. The epidemiologist tracks and monitors diseases so OSDH officials know how to address it.
Klein said Oklahoma’s turnover rate of State Epidemiologists during the pandemic is higher than the turnover rate prior to the pandemic. She said two of the four epidemiologists were on contract and their respective contract ended, and that the others moved on to other opportunities.
“However, the variety of expertise [from] those [epidemiologists] who served during the pandemic was invaluable and enabled OSDH to respond to each stage of the pandemic,” Klein said.