OKLAHOMA CITY – Attorney General Mike Hunter on May 17 released the multicounty grand jury report and the Oklahoma State Auditor and Inspector’s investigative performance audit, closing the state’s investigation into the Oklahoma State Department of Health (OSDH).
The overarching conclusions of both the grand jury report and the audit are widespread mismanagement, archaic practices and fiscal irresponsibility led to the issues facing the agency.
The seven month long review included dozens of interviews and testimony from current and former OSDH employees and a thorough review of agency records and accounting practices spanning the course of several years.
Both grand jurors, as well as auditors with the office of State Auditor Gary Jones, determined the agency was never insolvent, there was ample cash to pay expenses, the $30 million emergency supplemental appropriation wasn’t needed and the reduction in force that eliminated the jobs of 198 individuals was unnecessary.
Although grand jurors found the inept practices and processes at the department “reprehensible,” they concluded no state or federal money was embezzled or stolen and no evidence of anyone in management positions personally benefited from the activities.
“While financial mismanagement, fictitious fiscal reporting and reckless overspending abounded at the department, no criminally prosecutable conduct provable by proof beyond a reasonable doubt was identified,” the report reads.
Attorney General Hunter said adopting the auditor’s and grand jurors’ recommendations are necessary for the department moving forward.
“The report from the multicounty grand jury and the audit from Auditor Jones’ office reveal a system of deceit, abuse, mismanagement and utter incompetence that are so egregious it is hard, if not impossible, to comprehend the rationale behind some of the decisions that were made,” Attorney General Hunter said. “The consequences were unnecessary layoffs and a disruption of essential services in communities across the state. Quite simply, this can never happen again.
“The recommendations by the grand jurors and Auditor Jones’ office should be acted upon immediately by the department of health, to avoid the same kind of abuse in the future and to ensure the public we are serious about earning their trust back.
“I am optimistic that the new leadership team at the Department of Health will be successful in affecting a complete systematic change that addresses the recommendations.
“I appreciate the work and diligence of Auditor Jones, his audit team, the FBI, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, investigators, prosecutors and agents in the Attorney General’s Office and members of the multicounty grand jury for dedicating many hours to this investigation.”
The Health Department problems garnered widespread scrutiny from journalists; many of the issues the grand jury studied were first unveiled in stories from Oklahoma Watch reporter Paul Monies.
CapitolBeatOK and The City Sentinel, in the 2017 annual wrap-up of stories about state government, ranked the Health Department controversy the top news story of the year.
To read the grand jury’s report from the multi-county grand jury and the special investigative audit, click here.