Health employees blew whistle months ago

Gary Jones, Ok State Auditor

Updated Analysis: What did they know about financial mismanagement and when did they tell officials is a question Oklahoma State Auditor Gary Jones answered in testimony Thursday before the House Special Investigation Committee. Jones said an employee of the OK Dep. of Health came forward on financial mismanagement during the audit process.

Attorney General Hunter announced today that the FBI and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services will join the investigations.  

The whistle-blower had spoken to the auditor’s office as part of an annual financial report. Part of the audit process includes a fraud risk interview, where the people involved confirm that the report would contain no fraudulent information or anything else that would compromise the audit’s integrity. Jones said the employee came back wanting to “re-state their fraud statements.”

Within the span of about a week, Jones said, three more employees of the department also came forward with similar concerns. “Obviously these people were afraid to report the truth, afraid of retaliation,” Jones said.

The auditor’s office, attorney general and a grand jury are investigating the Department of Health’s financial mismanagement. The public became aware of issues Oct. 30 when Health Commissioner Terry Cline and his chief deputy Julie Cox-Kain abruptly resigned their positions.

Oklahhoma Finance Secretary and special friend/advisor of Governor Mary Fallin, Preston Doerflinger, was appointed to take Cline’s place.

Preston Doerflinger and Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin

According to NewsOk Doerflinger told the committee on Monday he didn’t realize the severity of problems until Oct. 27, when the department requested a waiver to avoid paying 18 months of health benefits to employees who were facing layoffs.

To the contrary, Jones said he first contacted Doerflinger on Sept. 1 after the auditor’s office was able to substantiate the Heath Department employees’ concerns. In a text, Jones told Doerflinger: “We need to talk. Issues at the Health Department.” A phone call followed the text message

After their first conversation Jones spoke with Doerflinger in person about a week later and then a third time on Sept. 29. Ultimately, Jones said he escalated the issue “I did ring the bell. I did go to the proper person,” Jones said.

Doerflinger said he wouldn’t dispute Jones’ timeline of text messages and meetings, but feels he is not responsible for his lack of understanding the seriousness of what he was told repeatedly.

Update: The Muskogee Phoenix Editorial Board writes this morning, “State official’s actions disgraceful”

A Facebook feud initiated by the governor’s finance secretary demonstrates the depth to which leadership at the Capitol seem willing to sink themselves and the state.

Secretary Preston Doerflinger accused the state auditor of falling “asleep at the wheel” in a Facebook post attempting to assign blame for the fiscal mismanagement of the Oklahoma Health Department. Gov. Mary Fallin’s appointee said Auditor and Inspector Gary Jones had “been derelict in his duties” and urged him to abandon his bid for the Republican Party’s nomination in the 2018 governor’s race.

Jones attributed the dispute to a discrepancy in the testimony presented by the two men during hearings convened by lawmakers investigating Health Department expenditures. The state auditor said Doerflinger “got his feelings hurt” because their recollections differed about when financial problems at the agency first surfaced.

Doerflinger’s accusations against Jones appear petty considering the scope of the fiscal calamity at a state agency that provides core services to thousands of Oklahomans. His conduct, on the other hand, is quite alarming and further bruises the state’s image — an image tarnished by those who place politics above the best interest of their constituents.

Fallin’s finance secretary was responsible for overseeing the state’s finances as director of the Office of Management and Enterprise Services. He now serves as interim director of the beleaguered agency that must lay off scores of workers across the state due to alleged misfeasance.

From this vantage point, it appears Doerflinger should focus more attention on the serious issues that jeopardize the public health in Oklahoma and threatens its residents. His Facebook feud appears to be little more than a charade — perhaps an attempt to deflect attention from himself or a ploy to influence the outcome of party politics.

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OK Attorney General Mike Hunter

Further Update: Attorney General Mike Hunter by press release today announced that the FBI and the Office of the Inspector General of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) will partner with his office to investigate issues relating to the use of federal funds at the Oklahoma State Department of Health (OSDH).

Attorney General Hunter said attorneys and investigators with his office will work with federal authorities and the state auditor’s office to scrutinize movement and management of both state and federal monies at the OSDH.

“I appreciate the collaboration of the FBI and HHS in insuring that we can conduct a thorough and exacting review of the situation at OSDH,” Attorney General Hunter said. “We will get to the bottom of what happened there.”

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