Dept. of Health CFO testifies before House Special Investigation Committee

Oklahoma State Department of Health (OSDH)

The Oklahoma State Health Department Chief Financial Officer says he notified leaders of cash problems at the agency months before the issues became public.

CFO Mike Romero testified Friday before the House Special Investigation Committee that is looking into the mismanagement claims. Romero testified he started at the health department in April and within weeks realized they used strange terminology and procedures when it came to finances.

By June, he realized the agency had financial problems and sent a memo out explaining that something needed to be done to fix the issues immediately.

"At a very early point within my tenure at the agency, [I was] making a very big splash and upsetting people by asking difficult questions," he said.

He says the memo caused a big stir and department leaders were not happy he sent it. In August, in a meeting of the department leaders he identified issues and reported the department was about $30 million in the hole. He says he told them they needed to tell someone about the issue but the department decided it would hold internal "incident command" meetings.

He said "incident command" is a FEMA term used for dealing with natural-disaster kinds of situations.

"So I'm thinking to myself, 'what's incident command going to do for this?' I was lost. I'm thinking this is opposite world, this is the strangest thing I've ever heard of," Romero testified. "But I had then begun to recognize the tone at the top of this agency which was, listen, 'we're going to do things our way. If you don't like it too bad.'"

It took until October for the public to discover there were financial issues at the department. It wasn't until November when the request finally came for $30 million in supplemental funding, the House formed the committee to investigate the issues after the request.

The department has been under scrutiny the past few months after it was revealed that furloughs were due to the mismanagement of funds.

Former head of the agency Terry Cline resigned from his position following the revelations and several others in the leadership of the department also lost their jobs. In December, dozens of people were laid off from the department.

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