Senate takes steps to change Commissioner of Health

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OKLAHOMA CITY (KFOR) – It looks like there will be more changes ahead for the Oklahoma State Department of Health- Gary Gox has been serving as interim head of the embattled state agency, but Oklahoma State Senate leaders say he will not be confirmed.

Governor Stitt appointed Cox to the position back in September.

Questions about qualifications and spending during the current pandemic will reportedly have the Governor looking for new appointee at the end of the legislative session.

“The timing on this is a nightmare in many ways,” said Sen. Greg McCortney of Ada.

The head of the Senate Health and Human Service Committee weighing in on his decision to not vote on the confirmation of Gary Cox as Commissioner of Health.

By not voting on it in the final committee meeting of the year this afternoon, Oklahoma will be without a head of health when the current legislative session is over during one of the biggest health crisis in recent history.

“COVID-19 raised the Commissioner’s profile and it put him out front and I think this investigation by the Attorney General is very much focused on the way the Dept. of Health has handled money during the COVID-19 crisis. There are some real concerns about how the money has been handled,” said McCortney.

McCortney also says reports of disgruntled employees at the OK State Health Department and Cox’s lack of basic qualifications also weighed into the decision.

“If he was not obviously academically qualified to be over the State Dept of Health, why are we this far down the road,” said Sen. George Young of OKC.

Young says he respects the work Cox has done in years past at the Tulsa and OKC Health departments.

But Cox is a lawyer by trade and he does not have the required degrees to serve as Head of Health.

There was talk of changing laws to change the qualifications, but that will not happen.

“The Governor wants to be able to pick the people he wants without any criteria that is my biggest concern,” said Young.

Speaking of Governor Stitt, his office issuing a statement late last week endorsing Cox and then today saying,

“Governor Stitt and Commissioner Cox remain focused on leading the State’s proactive fight against COVID-19. The Senate has until the end of May to grant a hearing, and the governor hopes that in the midst of this historic global pandemic our legislators will do the right thing and take the time to consider Commissioner Cox’s nomination.”

McCortney tells News 4 that at the end of May, it will be up to the Governor to appoint a new Health Commissioner. That will then be voted on next session starting in February 2021.

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