In The Know: Health Department Records Show Allegations of Deliberate Deception

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. Click here to subscribe to In The Know and see past editions.

Today In The News

Health Department Records Show Allegations of Deliberate Deception: Documents released Friday by the state Department of Health include a summary of alleged deceptions within the agency that include fraudulent budget reports to state finance officials and omissions in reporting the agency’s financial position to the Legislature and the State Board of Health. The records, provided in response to an Open Records Act request made by Oklahoma Watch, include an October memo from Health Department Chief Financial Officer Mike Romero that outlined initial findings to the agency’s chief operating officer [Oklahoma Watch].

State Could Lose $115M in Medicaid Funds for Teaching Hospitals: Oklahoma’s two largest safety-net hospitals could lose $115 million a year because the state spent Medicaid dollars on training doctors for well over a decade apparently without approval, Oklahoma Watch has learned. The University of Oklahoma and Oklahoma State University’s medical schools and associated teaching hospitals also could need an emergency injection of about $30 million from the Legislature this fiscal year because of the dispute with the federal government over a Medicaid waiver [Oklahoma Watch]. CMS vetoes Oklahoma’s request for funds to recruit docs [Modern Healthcare].

In Opioid Battle, Cherokee Want Their Day in Tribal Court: Cherokee children were disappearing. At weekly staff meetings, Todd Hembree, the attorney general of the Cherokee Nation, kept hearing about babies in opioid withdrawal and youngsters with addicted parents, all being removed from families. The crush on the foster care system was so great that the unthinkable had become inevitable: 70 percent of the Cherokee foster children in Oklahoma had to be placed in the homes of non-Indians. Across the country, tens of thousands of people are dying from abuse of prescription opioids. Here in the capital of the Cherokee Nation, the epidemic is exacting an additional, deeply painful price [New York Times].

Second special session: Gov. Fallin says legislators must find way to avoid Medicaid provider cuts: Gov. Mary Fallin told lawmakers late Friday to provide funding to the Oklahoma Health Care Authority this year to avoid provider rate cuts. Lawmakers return to the Capitol on Monday for a second special session to plug a massive budget hole. Without new funding, cuts are expected to happen Jan. 1. The state’s Medicaid agency expects rate cuts of 6 percent with some exceptions. A 1 percent cut is slated for nursing homes [Tulsa World]. Oklahoma House Democrats said they will continue their push for higher oil and gas taxes during the year’s third legislative session [Journal Record]. Frequently asked questions about Oklahoma’s special session [OK Policy].

What will it take to force action on passing recurring revenue? Chinese water torture is a process in which water is slowly dripped onto a person’s forehead allegedly making the restrained victim insane. It’s been found to be quite effective, capable of causing emotional cracks within a short time even in a controlled environment. Legislators must be wondering if this is Governor Fallin’s latest tactic to force action on passing recurring revenue measures. To review, on August 10th the state Supreme Court ruled the cigarette fee passed last session to be unconstitutional, thus creating an unbalanced budget [OK Policy]. 

Doerflinger: Gary Jones should resign, be put ‘out to pasture’: In his first Facebook post in more than a month, Oklahoma Secretary of Finance Preston Doerflinger has said State Auditor and Inspector Gary Jones should resign, claiming the 2018 gubernatorial candidate has been “asleep at the wheel” amid issues at the Oklahoma State Department of Health. “Not only should he resign his current position as state auditor owing to gross incompetence,” Doerflinger wrote, “He should also end his bid to be our future governor which I predict NOW he does in the very near future. It’s time to put this guy(Gary Jones) out to pasture.” [NonDoc]

Adult caregivers ponder longterm future of programs as budget talks resume: Living with a medical condition or a disability that makes that keeps you from living independently isn’t easy and can often be isolating. And being a caregiver brings its own set of physical, emotional, social and financial challenges. Life Adult Day Center, located in Stillwater at First Christian Church, 411 W. Matthews Street, has been a vital source of information, assistance and support for people with disabilities and their caregivers since 1983. But budget cuts for the Oklahoma Department of Human Services are threatening the ability of places like Life Adult Day Center to provide services at their current levels [CNHI].

Voters lack say in many Oklahoma school board elections: Public school boards approve million-dollar contracts, hire the district superintendent and set policy ranging from curriculum to student conduct. But the elected officials who serve on these boards across Oklahoma often gain their position without a single vote cast in their name. It’s not uncommon for board seats in small Oklahoma towns to go uncontested, with the lone person to sign up awarded the position by default. Even in the state’s largest school districts it’s common for board seats to be filled through uncontested races [NewsOK].

Study: Oklahoma 18th worst in burdensome occupational licensing laws: Within reach of cosmetologist Shannah Russell every day at work are an assortment of items that, in the wrong hands, could send a client to the emergency room. “There are a lot of harsh chemicals that we work with,” she says. “There are straighteners and bleaches and hot wax. You have sharp tools. It’s dangerous.” Which is why Russell is grateful that she can’t legally do a perm without the government’s say-so [Tulsa World]. Cutting red tape can help Oklahoma job seekers [Institute for Justice senior attorney Paul Avelar / NewsOK]. The full report is available here; the Oklahoma section is available here. Occupational licensing is a growing barrier to Oklahomans who seek a decent job [OK Policy].

Weighing the Odds of a Federal Takeover of State Prisons: Padlocks are welded onto cell doors at the Oklahoma State Penitentiary for when the electronic locks fail. The state’s three prisons for women are at 129 percent of capacity, meaning inmates must sleep in temporary bunk beds in day rooms. Shelves with thousands of inmate files jam what once was a basketball court at the Kate Barnard Correctional Center. It’s the backup for a three-decade-old software program used for recordkeeping [Oklahoma Watch].

Oklahoma goes second straight year without an execution; no new protocol in sight: Oklahoma did not put anyone to death over the past two years amid continued work on the Department of Corrections’ lethal injection protocol. This is the first time since 1994 that the state has gone two or more consecutive years without carrying out an execution. The Death Penalty Information Center, a nonprofit organization that doesn’t take an official position on executions, released its annual report last week on the status of capital punishment in the United States [Tulsa World]. The report is available here.

For too many in Oklahoma, ‘justice for all’ is a myth: The idea of “justice for all” is just that for too many Oklahomans — an idea, and not a bedrock certainty as declared in our Pledge of Allegiance. That bedrock often turns to sand for the state’s poor. Evidence of this is reflected in an assessment conducted for Legal Aid Services of Oklahoma and the Oklahoma Access to Justice Commission. The former is a nonprofit that’s been in place since 2001 to assist low-income individuals [Editorial Board / The Oklahoman].

Greater Tulsa Area African-American Affairs Commission convenes for first time: Mayor G.T. Bynum’s promised Greater Tulsa Area African-American Affairs Commission held its orientation meeting Friday at City Hall, a group of 21 leaders aimed at addressing racial disparities in Tulsa and enhancing opportunities for blacks. Bynum and District 1 Councilor Vanessa Hall-Harper announced plans to create the commission earlier this year. Bynum was unable to attend the organizational meeting, but Jackson Landrum, director of the Mayor’s Office of Human Rights, told the assembled commission members, “The work you will be doing is extremely serious. We applaud you for taking on this task.” [Tulsa World]

Government leaders should learn from tribes: One-hundred and eighty-five years ago, the government of then-President Andrew Jackson, after embracing genocide as public policy, forced the Choctaw, Chickasaw, Cherokee, Seminole and Creek nations to march across the southern part of the United States and relocate to what is now Oklahoma. For Jackson, the natives didn’t quite fit in with White America. Allegedly, the tribes were savages who didn’t know how to govern and needed protection by a benevolent government. The plan was to move the tribes to wilderness to protect them. Diplomats argued, treaties were signed and the tribes were sent packing [M. Scott Carter / Journal Record].

Tribes oppose planned bioterror tests near Oklahoma graves: Five Native American tribes that own an Oklahoma site where the U.S. Department of Homeland Security intends to conduct bioterrorism drills next year now oppose the government’s plan, saying the agency didn’t inform them about chemicals it plans to release on grounds the tribes consider sacred because more than 100 children are buried there. The Oklahoma-based Council of Confederated Chilocco Tribes is made up of five tribes that jointly own what’s left of the former Chilocco Indian Agricultural School outside Newkirk where the testing would be conducted [AP].

Sen. James Lankford says anti-Trump texts don’t taint entire Mueller probe: Oklahoma Republican Sen. James Lankford says text messages critical of President Trump sent by senior FBI officials who worked on Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s team won’t “taint” the overall probe into Russian interference in the election. …FBI agent Peter Strzok sent the messages to his colleague Lisa Page, a senior FBI lawyer who also worked on the Mueller team. Some of the 375 messages exchanged included disparaging comments about then-candidate Trump, including messages calling Mr. Trump an “idiot.” [Face the Nation / CBS News]

Rep. Tom Cole doesn’t trust the economists on GOP tax plan:  In 15 years representing Oklahoma in the House, Tom Cole has earned praise from Democrats and fellow Republicans alike. He’s a PhD historian with a talent for campaign strategy, a genial conservative with pragmatic instincts. That makes him as good as anyone to ask: Why are Republicans rushing to pass an unpopular tax bill that economists predict will increase deficits without fueling much economic growth? [CNBC] The Congressional tax plan would take Oklahoma’s budget mess national [OK Policy].

Quote of the Day

“We have great-great grandparents who were products of the Trail of Tears. They were resilient, but we lost a lot of tribal members along the way. And now you have an opioid epidemic that is wreaking havoc on families, tearing them apart. I am not sure we’re going to be resilient enough to overcome this one.”

– The Cherokee Nation’s executive director of Indian Child Welfare Nikki Baker Limore. The Cherokee Nation has filed a lawsuit against several pharmacy chains and drug distributors in tribal court (Source)

Number of the Day

20.3 per 100,000

Rate of drug deaths in Oklahoma in 2017, 10th highest in the US

Source: America’s Health Rankings

See previous Numbers of the Day here.

Policy Note

How sexism and old-fashioned ideals hurt child care operators: Lorna Parks’ workday officially begins at 7:30 a.m., when six infants and toddlers start to arrive at her two-story Detroit row house for the day. But often she’s up as early as 2:30 a.m. to get ready, including a recent project converting a room into a new nap center. During a typical day, Parks changes around 30 diapers—and that’s when the children in her care don’t have the runs, as was the case one week this past September. Parks, 49, is on her feet for more than 10 hours, leading group singalongs, preparing meals, scooping crying toddlers into her arms, and taking an occasional “break” to sit pretzel-style on the carpet with the kids. When they finally leave at 5 p.m., and she’s handed parents their “daily experience sheets” with complete records of when and what children ate, new scratches or bruises, and any new or odd behaviors, Parks begins the evening ritual of sanitizing sheets and cots. If she doesn’t have too much schoolwork from her five-hours-a-week classes at a nearby college, including one in the foundations of early childhood education, she’ll settle in for a little aromatherapy before bed at 10:30 p.m [The Hechinger Report].

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Carly Putnam joined OK Policy in 2013. As Policy Director, she supervises policy research and strategy. She previously worked as an OK Policy intern, and she was OK Policy's health care policy analyst through July 2020. She graduated from the University of Tulsa in 2013. As a student, she was a participant in the National Education for Women (N.E.W.) Leadership Institute and interned with Planned Parenthood. Carly is a graduate of the Oklahoma Center for Nonprofits Nonprofit Management Certification; the Oklahoma Developmental Disabilities Council’s Partners in Policymaking; The Mine, a social entrepreneurship fellowship in Tulsa; and Leadership Tulsa Class 62. She currently serves on the boards of Restore Hope Ministries and The Arc of Oklahoma. In her free time, she enjoys reading, cooking, and doing battle with her hundred year-old house.

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