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OKLAHOMA CITY (KFOR) – Gov. Kevin Stitt appointed Interim Oklahoma Commissioner of Health Keith Reed to become the state’s official health commissioner, two days after he signed a bill that lowers standards for the position into law.

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Keith Reed – Interim State Commissioner of Health. Photo from Oklahoma Governor’s Office.

An announcement from the Governor’s Office states that Reed, who has served as interim commissioner since October, has nearly 20 years of experience at the Oklahoma State Department of Health. He was also deputy commissioner of community health services from 2018 to 2020, and was integral in the state’s COVID-19 testing and vaccine distribution operations, according to the Governor’s Office.

“Keith Reed has done an exceptional job as interim commissioner of health and will continue to serve Oklahomans well in this permanent capacity,” Stitt said. “Keith has a proven track record of success, and he is the right person to lead the Oklahoma State Department of Health into the future.”

Reed’s appointment requires Oklahoma State Senate confirmation.

Reed, who received a Bachelor of Science in nursing from Northeastern State University in Tahlequah and a Master of Public Health degree from the University of Oklahoma, said he is honored to be nominated for the position.

“If confirmed, I look forward to serving Oklahomans in this role alongside other dedicated employees of this agency who work tirelessly to lead Oklahoma to prosperity through health,” Reed said.

Reed did not meet previous requirements to qualify for official appointment to the health commissioner position, requirements that changed on Tuesday when Stitt signed Senate Bill 709 into law.

Previous Oklahoma law required the State Commissioner of Health to meet at least one of the following qualifications:

1. Possession of a Doctor of Medicine Degree and a license to practice medicine in this state;

2. Possession of an Osteopathic Medicine Degree and a license to practice medicine in this state;

3. Possession of a Doctoral degree in Public Health or Public Health Administration; or

4. Possession of a Master of Science Degree and a minimum of five (5) years of supervisory experience in the administration of health services.

The new law exempts potential candidates from those requirements if the candidate has at least a Master’s degree and has managerial experience with state agencies or large projects.

SB 709, written by Sen. Paul Rosino, R-Oklahoma City, and Rep. Cindy Roe, R-District 42, was divisive among state legislators.

The bill’s supporters said changing the qualifications widens the pool of candidates. Opponents said it gives the governor too many loopholes to name someone who is not qualified.

“Wouldn’t we be better off making sure people in position of authority in this field know what kind of questions to ask, because they have the right background?“ Rep. John Waldron, D-District 77, said last week.

Roe said that’s why, upon consultation with the Oklahoma State Department of Health and the Oklahoma Medical Association, SB 709 creates a chief medical officer position, appointed by the commissioner.


Oklahoma Politics

“If you look at a hospital administrator, for instance, that’s typically not a physician. It’s just someone overseeing the overall hospital operations,” said Roe.

But opponents said the bill was politically driven. The State Senate shot down Stitt’s appointment of Gary Cox as Health Commissioner in 2020 because Cox didn’t meet listed requirements. Some say the governor has a track record of such appointments, previously naming an unqualified candidate to head up the Land Office and a person without a college degree to the State Regents for Higher Education.

“The Governor should cast a vision that people can get on board with instead of having a governor go around and put their own hand-picked people in to do his or her bidding,” Rep. Andy Fugate, D-District 94, said last week.