Audit of Oklahoma State Department of Health released

The Oklahoma State Department of Health
The Oklahoma State Department of Health(Oklahoma State Department of Health)
Published: Feb. 9, 2022 at 2:50 PM CST
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OKLAHOMA CITY, Okla. (KSWO) - The Oklahoma State Auditor’s Office has released its findings from an audit done to the Oklahoma State Department of Health.

The audit was requested by former state Attorney General Mike Hunter on April 28, 2020, and it was delivered to the attorney general’s office on May 21, 2021.

Oklahoma State Auditor & Inspector Cindy Byrd publicly released the audit Wednesday.

“I believe all public records should be open and easily accessible to the taxpayers,” Auditor Cindy Byrd said. “After receiving an Open Records Request, and consulting with outside legal counsel, I have concluded there is no Oklahoma statute that gives any state official the authority to withhold this information. This audit is an inspection of existing public records. Consequently, my final audit report is neither confidential nor exempt from the Open Records Act. I feel compelled, both legally and ethically, to release the full audit report to the public. Oklahoma taxpayers paid for it – they should get to see it.”

The audit had three objectives: to determine if Personal Protective Equipment, or PPE, that was paid for by wire transfer was received, to determine that purchases made by the department complied with the Central Purchasing Act, and determine if salaries at the department are reasonable based on position.

The audit found that between March 30 and Dec. 31, 2020, a total of 86 wire transfers were done to 28 different vendors, costing a combined $70,718,374, though nine transactions totaling more than $16 million were credited back or returned because what was ordered could not be provided.

The state auditor’s office found after looking through documents that $5,414,982 of goods bought by wire transfer couldn’t be confirmed as being received.

According to the audit, Secretary of Health Jerome Loughridge delegated purchasing authority to Gino DeMarco, who had been deemed the PPE supply chain leader by Gov. Stitt, despite not being an OSDH employee. The state auditor and inspector’s office said there was no authority for the Secretary of Health to be the designated purchaser, and none of Gov. Stitt’s executive orders gave him the authority to approve purchases.

According to the auditor’s office, the prepayments violated the Oklahoma Constitution, which state Democrats called out Wednesday after the audit’s release.

“This governor has shown time after time that he thinks he is above the law,” said Alicia Andrews, Chair of the Oklahoma Democratic Party. “According to the audit, not only did Stitt illegally pre-purchase personal protective equipment, PPE, which is not permitted by our Constitution, $80,000 was made in finder’s fees which lacked legal authority by the Public Health Code.”

The audit also found that 42 wire transactions exceeded the one-time purchase cap of $250,000, as authorized by a previous executive order.

Under the third objective of the audit, the state auditor’s office discovered the commissioner of health’s salary increased several times during the audit. On July 1, 2020, his annual salary was $215,188, but it increased to $335,160 on Jan. 1, 2021.

This was just after Governor Stitt gave the Secretary of Health authority to set the Commissioner of Health’s salary, which was done on Dec. 28, 2020.

The audit discovered that Secretary of Health and Mental Health Kevin Corbett then directed OSDH to adjust the commissioner’s salary.

The findings of the audit revealed that while the commissioner’s salary is significantly higher than the directors at the Oklahoma Health Care Authority and Department of Human Services, other salary increases in the department during the audit period were justified based on their position.

Governor Stitt also reacted to the findings after the audit was released Wednesday.

“To keep hospitals open and our frontline workers safe, I issued executive orders to get PPE to our state as quickly as possible,” Gov. Stitt said. “Looking back today, we can acknowledge that there were technical errors while still knowing we did everything we could to protect citizens of this state during an unimaginable time.”

The full audit can be found online here.

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