OPEA staff was able to attend Thursday’s meeting of Oklahoma State Department of Health Oklahoma City area employees with interim director Preston Doerflinger. After opening comments, Dir. Doerflinger took questions from employees for nearly two hours. We appreciate access to the meeting and the director’s openness with the staff.
Here is what OPEA took away from the meeting:
· OSDH employees are hurting and the instability has taken a toll on them as they work to meet the agency’s mission and do their jobs. The “cloud” hanging over the agency is detrimental to their work.
· OSDH employees care about their situation and care equally as much about maintaining the services they provide to fellow Oklahomans.
· The health department’s financial situation is not good. It will take some time and effort, due to the variety of funding streams and the broad nature of the agency’s mission, to analyze information and determine what led to this situation.
· The department will work to reestablish their financial stability. They are “getting the train back on the track”.
· Ensuring that it meets its obligations to its employees is a top priority. They are looking at several options to ensure that payroll is made. We believe they will get this done.
· While the furloughs are necessary right now to help the agency’s budget, we think that OSDH management will try to end them as soon as financially possible. Furloughs can serve a purpose to generate some immediate cash to pay the bills but are not good in the long run. Furloughs lead to increased workload and financial hardship for employees which hurts service delivery.
· The proposed Reductions in Force (RIFs) remain as an option to help solve the shortfall. If they occur, we do not think the number of Full Time Employees (FTE) to be eliminated through the RIF will be as high as the numbers announced earlier. We think staff reductions will be more targeted and will be based on where efficiencies may be found rather than a broad measure to cut significant costs.
· Dir. Doerflinger heard about employees’ concerns firsthand and communication from agency leaders to staff appears to be a top priority as demonstrated by his meetings with staff.
· It will take hard work and diligence to find responsible solutions to the issue and patience will be needed. OSDH did not arrive at this point overnight and it will take time to remedy it.
Despite the current situation, we are encouraged that employee communication was one of the top priorities for Dir. Doerflinger and believe that the OSDH situation will be corrected. We will continue to work with him and OSDH staff and our members to see that employee concerns are presented to him. It is OPEA’s goal to assist in any way possible those who are working to stabilize OSDH’s financial situation so their employees can continue their mission to protect and promote health, and prevent disease and injury.