OKLAHOMA CITY (KFOR) – A new report ranks Oklahoma second-to-last among other states and the District of Columbia for its response to COVID-19.

Now, one of the state’s top doctors is taking a look at what went wrong – and what we can try to do right in the future.

“To summarize it very quickly – Oklahoma didn’t do very well,” said Dr. David Holden, President of the Oklahoma State Medical Association, reflecting on a bad report card for the state.

Oklahoma ranks 50th out of 51 – including the District of Columbia – on non-profit, The Commonwealth Fund’s scorecard. Mississippi came in last place.

It assessed how states handled the pandemic from February 2020 through March of this year by looking at things like vaccination rates, stress on ICU facilities, excess mortality rate and hospital staff shortages.

Healthcare staffing issues along with poor overall health among Oklahomans are two things the state has long struggled with – and COVID-19 really shined a light on both.

“The pandemic showed our fragility, how fragile our system is and how we were not able to handle it properly,” Holden said. 

Oklahoma’s COVID vaccination rate is still below 60%.

Holden says when it comes to vaccines, messaging – nationally and locally – was an issue from the start.

“We have to have a serious discussion – and this is utterly apolitical – of the difference of science and ethics,” said Holden. “We have freedoms but if those freedoms endanger other people, what do we do about them. You may not want to get vaccinated but you put other people at risk – is that really the ethical thing to do – especially when we have safe and effective vaccines?”

He says he hopes if another pandemic happens – our state and country will be better-prepared.

“We didn’t know what it took,” Holden said. “Using a sports analogy, to win something – you have to know what it takes. We weren’t ready to accept the situation.”

Dr. Holden also said Oklahoma needs better communication between the state health department and rural hospitals and other facilities around the state.

KFOR reached out to the Oklahoma State Department of Health, they sent the following statement:

“In Oklahoma, it is no secret our state has poor health outcomes compared to other states. The state typically ranks towards the bottom tier of America’s Health Rankings, yearly.

Through the pandemic we have learned, a majority of the time, COVID-19 disproportionally impacts those with underlying health conditions. This correlates Oklahoma’s health ranking to stress on intensive care units and our mortality rate.

Coming out of the pandemic, OSDH is striving, as we transform the agency, to put a heavier focus on improving the health of Oklahomans at the community level. One example of working to fulfill that vision is through our mobile health units, which go to communities across the state where access to healthcare can be challenging. With those units our teams are able to connect Oklahomans to resources they need to thrive. That effort goes hand in hand with engaging our ecosystem, which is in line with one of our core values, collaboration. Our growing partnership with OSMA, hospitals and other providers is part of what will continue to strengthen our network of care that will ultimately improve health in our state.”

OSDH