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Point of View: Consolidating health care agencies won't help Oklahomans

Andy Sullivan
Andy Sullivan

When the Legislature gave the governor the ultimate authority to hire and fire the five major agency heads and replace all the boards, it was the beginning of Gov. Kevin Stitt's ability to control the state agencies and thereby influence the direction they take and their finances.

Stitt has stated that he will run government like a business. Businesses select their leaders based on experience and knowledge of the business they are expected to run. The Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuses Services, the Oklahoma Health Care Authority and the Health Department operate under a myriad of state and federal regulations. Day-to-day running of these agencies requires an intimate knowledge of these regulations. This can only come from years of experience working in the field. I cannot imagine any business such as a large bank or lending company that would hire a CEO who had spent his entire career in health care and knew nothing about banking and all the regulations involved.

It is not a coincidence that the heads of the five major institutions have resigned or been replaced since Stitt took office. In abruptly dissolving the DMHSAS board, he had no idea of the consequences of his actions. A week later, the board needed to approve credentials of many state agencies so they could remain open. Boards have institutional memory. Their replacement is staggered so new members learn from older. The board is made up of volunteers with expertise in the all areas that the DMHSAS serve. Did the new appointees meet these criteria?

If this consolidation happens, it will be years before the outcome becomes apparent and changes required. In the interim I pose these questions: What will be the qualifications of the director of this conglomerate? How will the effectiveness of the new directors be measured, and who will do it?

Former DMHSAS Director Terri White set the bar for professional oversight, quality improvement to the clients and the ability to cut costs without compromising services. She was a master of obtaining federal funds and grants. Under White’s leadership, the DMHSAS won more Governor’s Awards for Excellence than any other agency.

I await the appointment of White’s replacement and am anxious to see the credentials of the new appointee. I doubt there is anyone who will be able to match what she was able to do for our citizens with mental and substance abuse disease. Her resignation is Oklahoma’s loss.

Sullivan is professor emeritus of pediatric orthopedic surgery at the OU Medical Center, where he formerly served as department chairman and chief medical officer.