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State Health Department to lay off 161 employees.


Most of the state Health Department layoffs will impact employees working at the county level, the agency’s interim director said yesterday.

Interim Director Preston Doerflinger said 161 employees will receive layoff notifications between Monday and Thursday. The layoffs are difficult but necessary to put the state’s Health Department back on a firm financial footing.

Facing pressure and a barrage of questions from House lawmakers, Doerflinger and the interim head of the state’s budgeting agency — the Office of Management and Enterprise Services — spent much of yesterday  answering questions during a public hearing at the state Capitol.

Health Department spokesman Tony Sellars said the agency will start by shedding about 10 percent of its workforce between now and March when the bulk of the layoffs take effect. In all, 198 employees are expected to lose their jobs.

State Rep. Chad Caldwell, R-Enid, who chairs the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Health, said he wanted to know how Doerflinger’s agency had lived beyond its means undetected for six or seven years while employing personnel and operating programs it could ill afford.

Doerflinger said the agency operated undetected so long because officials misled state lawmakers and budget officials by presenting inaccurate financial information, like budget costs and ongoing program expenses. The debt built up over a period of time.

Officials have said the agency overspent and then used restricted federal and state funds to try to fill the gap.

After the mismanagement was discovered, lawmakers recently had to allocate $30 million in emergency funding to cover the agency’s budget gap so that it could afford to pay its employees.