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Point of View: State agency should not control local health departments

Mary Melón
Mary Melón

The autonomously governed health departments in Tulsa and Oklahoma City operate through the receipt of local county ad valorem dollars. An independent board of directors ensures that those dollars — generated in each respective county — are spent caring for residents of any age, race and income level.

A bill introduced this legislative session, House Bill 2504, would limit the autonomous authority of the city and county governments over the local public health agencies in Oklahoma City and Tulsa.

HB 2504 is an attempt to place local public health under the administrative control of the Oklahoma State Department of Health through personnel management, board appointments and preemption, and circumvents the original purpose of the statute that created metro health departments.

Forcing administrative involvement from the state level onto a local entity that receives zero state appropriated dollars is dangerous territory. Currently, the local governmental involvement in each department ensures that the immediate health concerns from each county are addressed. Through daily health screenings of underserved populations and community-wide wellness events, the metro health departments lead in preventative strategies among individual clients served or the community at large. Whether it’s a boil order, a mosquito outbreak or a rise in infant deaths, Oklahoma and Tulsa counties can quickly take action to save lives and do so in a fiscally responsibly way.

The Oklahoma City-County Health Department has successfully served the citizens of Oklahoma City and County for decades. The agency’s leadership, staff and volunteers acknowledge the importance of collaboration at the local, state and national levels, and routinely practice this collaboration across multiple sectors — including working daily with staff and leadership from the Oklahoma State Department of Health, partnerships with all school districts in Oklahoma County, the Oklahoma Municipal Court system, major hospital systems and Federally Qualified Health Centers, among others.

Public health is local by its very nature and it works best when local officials can respond directly to the needs of local citizens, without forced administrative oversight from state government.

Mary Melón, president and CEO of The Foundation for Oklahoma City Public Schools, is board vice chair of the Oklahoma City-County Health Department. Erika Lucas, co-founder of StitchCrew and VEST, is board treasurer of the Oklahoma City-County Health Department.

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<strong>Erika Lucas</strong>

Erika Lucas

<figure><img src="//cdn2.newsok.biz/cache/r960-5da00e2fd95742d5917159703e5c2d52.jpg" alt="Photo - Erika Lucas " title=" Erika Lucas "><figcaption> Erika Lucas </figcaption></figure><figure><img src="//cdn2.newsok.biz/cache/r960-25c7dae154a33b8aae5e80a0625e682b.jpg" alt="Photo - Mary Melón " title=" Mary Melón "><figcaption> Mary Melón </figcaption></figure>
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