In The Know: Oklahoma hospitals are ‘dangerously full’ | Rural hospitals impacted | Court fines and fees system is ineffective, harmful

In The KnowIn The Know is your daily briefing on Oklahoma policy-related news. Inclusion of a story does not necessarily mean endorsement by the Oklahoma Policy Institute. Some stories included here are behind paywall or require subscription. OK Policy encourages the support of Oklahoma’s state and local media, which are vital to an informed citizenry. Subscribe to In The Know and see past editions.

New from OK Policy

Reducing Oklahoma’s court fines and fees is police reform: The police killing of George Floyd has reignited a national conversation about racial disparities in policing. While much of this conversation has been focused on municipal budgets and inadequate funding for mental health and social services, it’s also critical that lawmakers consider how the system of court fines and fees contributes to racial disparities in both policing and incarceration. Millions of dollars in court debt hangs over residents from some of Oklahoma’s poorest neighborhoods, and when Oklahomans can’t keep up with court payments, the courts may issue a warrant for their arrest. In the past decade, thousands of “failure to pay” warrants have been issued in ZIP codes that are home to Oklahoma’s largest communities of color. Requiring police to function as debt collectors for Oklahoma’s courts worsens racial disparities in policing, wastes valuable law enforcement resources, and contributes to Oklahoma’s expensive incarceration crisis.  [Damion Shade / OK Policy]

Oklahoma News

Oklahoma in top five states for counties with ‘dangerously full’ hospitals: A report from NPR following the Monday release of facility-level hospital capacity data by the federal government finds Oklahoma is among five states with the highest number of counties above a 90% average capacity threshold. “The dataset — which includes capacity reporting from hospitals in 2,200 counties in the U.S. — spotlights areas where hospitals are getting dangerously full.” [Public Radio Tulsa]

  • COVID-19: 11 more deaths reported; state averaging more than 3,000 new confirmed daily cases [Tulsa World] | [AP News]
  • ‘Significant number’ of suburban COVID-19 cases could affect Tulsa Public Schools operations, superintendent says [Tulsa World]
  • Closing time: Oklahoma bars face suspension for curfew noncompliance [The Oklahoman]
  • Six Shooter Saloon fires back at Stitt bar restrictions [The Oklahoman]

Some patients unable to get necessary levels of care because COVID-19 is flooding hospitals, Grove doctor says: Dr. Sam Ratermann has seen firsthand patients who haven’t received the higher-level or specialty care they need because COVID-19 is inundating Oklahoma’s hospital system. For weeks, if not months, he said, the intensive-care unit at Integris Grove Hospital has been completely full and staffed to the maximum. [Tulsa World] Ratermann said the normal practice of transfering patients to larger hospitals in metropolitan areas for higher levels of care has been “nearly impossible” as those hospitals have also filled, and, in some cases, hospitals smaller than his as far as 300 miles away request to transfer COVID-19 patients to them. [Public Radio Tulsa]

  • Doctor describes strain rural Oklahoma hospitals face due to COVID-19 [KOCO]
  • First look inside Oklahoma City COVID ICU as nurses beg for more action from Oklahomans [KFOR]
  • Oklahoma doctors plead with Oklahomans to continue to wear masks and slow the spread [KFOR]

COVID-19 vaccine plan: Health care workers, long-term care facilities to get first batch: With FDA authorization apparently imminent for Pfizer’s two-shot COVID-19 vaccination, distribution of the vaccine in Oklahoma could begin as early as this week, officials say. Health care workers with high risk of exposure, as well as residents and staff of nursing homes, assisted living centers and long-term care facilities, are slated to be the first in line. [Tulsa World]

Lawmaker proposing bill that could make it harder for future state questions to pass: Medical marijuana, Medicaid expansion and criminal justice reform are just a few measures that have become law in Oklahoma through state questions. But a state lawmaker is proposing a bill that could make it harder for future state questions to pass. [KOCO]

Health News

COVID-19 research goes underground: Researchers from the University of Oklahoma, OU Health and the city of Oklahoma City are going underground to determine the prevalence of COVID-19 in the metro area. Twice a week, OU researchers are collecting wastewater samples from the city’s four wastewater treatment plants and 15 residential manhole sites dispersed across the city to test the sewage for COVID-19. [The Journal Record]

State Government News

Oklahoma AG wants 20 times more money in Johnson & Johnson opioid case: The Oklahoma Supreme Court was asked Monday to order Johnson & Johnson to make a $9.3 billion payment to the state to address the deadly opioid crisis. “Nothing less than the fate of Oklahoma hangs in the balance,” attorneys for the state told justices in an appeal brief. Cleveland County District Judge Thad Balkman last year ordered the pharmaceutical giant to pay $465 million to the state to combat the crisis. The state had sought more than $17 billion at trial. [The Oklahoman]

Fact check: Are unemployment benefits ending in Oklahoma?: Oklahoma Employment Security Commission Director Shelley Zumwalt recently announced the end of State Extended Benefits for unemployed Oklahomans. Naturally, that led to much disinformation online regarding the “end” of unemployment insurance for Oklahomans. That claim is false. To be clear, traditional Unemployment Insurance is not ending, only the State Extended Benefits are ceasing. [The Oklahoman]

Oklahoma governor, Choctaw Nation agree to hunting compact: Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt and the Choctaw Nation agreed to a one-year extension of a hunting and fishing compact that was set to expire at the end of the year, Stitt’s office announced on Tuesday. [AP News]

Criminal Justice News

Resuming full police academies is Tulsa mayor’s top public safety priority: Returning annual police academies to their maximum capacity is his top public safety priority in the coming year, Mayor G.T. Bynum told an advisory group Tuesday. [Tulsa World]

Economic Opportunity

Oklahoma County’s housing assistance program likely won’t spend CARES Act funds before deadline: Hundreds of thousands of dollars in federal coronavirus relief funding that Oklahoma County dedicated to housing assistance likely will not be spent before the Dec. 30 deadline. But a new, streamlined procedure may still allow for hundreds of people to get relief in the last few days. [The Oklahoman]

Economy & Business News

Small business COVID-19 fund nearly dry: About $5 million is all that remains from a $37.75 million pot of money Oklahoma City has been distributing to small businesses harmed by the COVID-19 pandemic. The remaining money has to be spent by Dec. 30, Alliance for the Economic Development of Oklahoma City President Cathy O’Connor reminded members of the Oklahoma City Council when she presented them with an update at Tuesday’s council meeting. [The Journal Record]

Oil, gas industry hopes to rebound from ‘absolutely awful’ 2020: The year 2020 has been the worst in recent memory for the state’s oil and gas industry, the head of the state’s Petroleum Alliance said Tuesday. Brook Simmons, president of oil and gas trade association, said there were currently 13 active rigs, which is actually up from eight or nine earlier this year. However, that’s significantly down from the 148 operating in 2018. [CNHI via The Ada News]

Kratos successfully lands contract worth more than $37 million for drone made in Oklahoma: Kratos Defense & Security Solutions’ Valkyrie XQ-58A is helping Oklahoma’s growing aerospace industry soar. On Tuesday, Kratos officials announced the company had secured a contract worth about $37.8 million to provide Valkyrie aircraft to the U.S. Air Force as part of its Skyborg program. [The Oklahoman]

Education News

New quarantine guidelines should cut time students spend outside Oklahoma classrooms: In a state where more than 90% of school districts are participating in in-person instruction, quarantines have limited students’ actual time in a classroom. That time away could be cut in half, though, thanks to new guidelines from the CDC and Oklahoma’s Departments of Health and Education. [StateImapact Oklahoma]

Two board members barred from all Epic Charter Schools matters over conflict-of-interest concerns: Two members of the Statewide Virtual Charter School Board will be barred from all future Epic Charter Schools matters over conflict-of-interest concerns. In two separate votes on Tuesday, the board voted 3-2 to recuse Mathew Hamrick and Phyllis Shepherd from discussions, debates and votes on Epic One-on-One, Oklahoma’s largest virtual school. [Tulsa World] Read more from [The Oklahoman] & [NonDoc]

  • Epic Charter Schools’ board amends contract with for-profit management company, directs accounting practice changes [Tulsa World] | [NonDoc]

Oklahoma Local News

Quote of the Day

“I look at these numbers, and the same areas, you know, where some of these kids go to school are ridiculously higher than what they should be. They’re above the red. They had to create a whole new spectrum. Yet, we are — not as a society, not as a state, not (the Oklahoma Secondary School Activities Association), not the State Department of Education — saying, you know, ‘Maybe we need to limit the number of people even at these outside events?’”

-John Croisant, Tulsa Public Schools Board Member, discussing recent state football championship games and the rising virus levels in suburban Tulsa communities [Tulsa World]

Number of the Day


The rate of police stops in certain north Tulsa neighborhoods, which had higher court debt and larger Black populations, was more than 100 times higher than predominantly white and wealthier neighborhoods in Tulsa.

[Source: Human Rights Watch

See previous Numbers of the Day here.

Policy Note

In a Precarious Economy, Governments and Courts Must Take Immediate Action to Reduce Criminal Justice Fines and Fees: Fines and fees exist at every stage of the criminal justice process, from arrest and booking to conviction and sentencing. People can be ticketed for even minor infractions, charged to enter a jail, and then charged additional fees for each day they remain there. Even those serving non-jail sentences like probation or community service can be charged fees to participate. In addition, fines – a monetary sanction imposed when someone is convicted of a misdemeanor or a felony – are commonly imposed. These monetary sanctions add up and can total thousands of dollars. What’s more, the people being forced to pay are typically poor and are disproportionately people of color. Fines and fees ensnare millions of justice-involved people in cycles of debt, future criminal justice consequences, and ever-more precarious financial situations. [Vera Institute of Justice]

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Jessica joined OK Policy as a Communications Associate in January 2018. A Mexican immigrant, she was a Clara Luper Scholar at Oklahoma City University where she obtained a B.A. in Political Science and Philosophy. Prior to joining OK Policy, Jessica worked at a digital marketing agency in Oklahoma City. She is an alumna of both the National Education for Women (N.E.W.) Leadership Institute (2013) and OK Policy's Summer Policy Institute (2015). In addition to her role at OK Policy, Jessica serves as a board member for Dream Action Oklahoma in OKC and communications director for Dream Alliance Oklahoma in Tulsa.

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