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Okla. Health Department furloughs allegedly due to mismanagement of funds

Oklahoma State Department of Health (OSDH)

Hundreds of employees with the Oklahoma State Department of Health will soon be forced to stay home to save money.

The cost-cutting measure is part of a furlough recently announced by the cash-strapped agency and it will affect all OSDH employees making $35,000 or more. It began with a letter addressed to State Auditor and Inspector Gary Jones requesting a special audit.

State Representative Bobby Cleveland says it's about time, especially considering the amount of money on the line.

"It may be in the billions,” Cleveland said. “It's a lot. It's going to be a lot of money."

The loss of funds is expected to impact every Oklahoman, starting first with the agency's front line employees. Furloughs at the department will take effect October 29th and apply to roughly 1,500 employees. In addition, employees were notified this week that a reduction in force (RIF) would also be implemented in early 2018.

Approximately 250 employees are slated to be laid off. Sterling Zearley, executive director of the Oklahoma Public Employees Association, says such drastic action is incredibly concerning.

"That's going to decimate the health department,” Zearley said.

Most of that decimation will take place within the county health departments, which Zearley says will leave thousands without proper health care.

"A lot of those health departments, that's the only health care that some of our citizens receive is in the health department. So if you're shutting down, if you're furloughing nurses, the workers there, that means there's going to be a shortage of those individuals to provide those services,” Zearley told FOX 25.

OSDH is also responsible for licensing and inspecting restaurants, nursing homes and a variety of other public and private facilities. The extent of the agency's shortfall is still unclear, but Cleveland says he knows enough to know the people of Oklahoma deserve better.

"The administration over there, director and everybody else, should be terminated immediately,” Cleveland said.

In the meantime, the state auditor’s office says they're scheduled to meet with Health Commissioner Terry Cline Monday afternoon to present an engagement letter detailing the scope and cost of the audit. Once Cline signs the letter, the audit will begin.

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