Terry Cline

At an emergency meeting of the Oklahoma Board of Health, board members accepted the resignation of Commissioner of Health Terry Cline amid revelations of financial problems at the Oklahoma State Department of Health.

The board convened at 7 p.m. Monday and went almost immediately into executive session. The conference room’s door would not stay closed, so a table was propped in front of it while media and onlookers sat in the hall.

Just more than 30 minutes later, board members reconvened in public meeting and announced Cline submitted a letter of resignation to the board Monday afternoon. The board voted unanimously to accept it.

Cline was not in attendance.

Oklahoma Secretary of Finance Preston Doerflinger was appointed as interim commissioner of the agency.

“We know that there are going to be questions about the financial health of the department, and we have questions as well, and we are going to work hard to get to the bottom of them,” said Martha Burger, board chairwoman. “As a matter of fact, today, the Department of Health signed a letter of engagement with the State Auditor & Inspector’s Office. Department staff will be working with the auditor so that we can better understand the accounting practices of the Department of Health that may have contributed to the current financial situation.”

Financial trouble and staff reductions

The OSDH announced last week that it would be terminating up to 250 staff positions, and the exact details of why the agency is facing financial turmoil have remained unclear.

From Oklahoma Watch:

Even with the layoff announcement, the department still plans to put furloughs into effect beginning Oct. 29. The furloughs – two days per month – will affect all employees at the agency making annual salaries above $35,000.

The department has 2,011 full-time employees, down from 2,287 in 2008. About 100 employees took a VOBO in 2010 and 86 employees took a VOBO last year, according to the state Office of Management and Enterprise Services.

The Associated Press reported that Julie Cox-Kain, the department’s senior deputy commissioner, has also resigned.

Terry Cline
The Oklahoma Board of Health met in emergency meeting Monday, Oct. 30, 2017, to discuss the future of Commissioner of Health Terry Cline. (William W. Savage III)

Not OSDH’s first scandal

In 2001, the Oklahoma Department of Health saw seven former employees indicted in a “ghost worker” scandal.

The impropriety resulted in former Senate Majority Leader Jim Lane being sentenced to five years in prison and former Commissioner of Health Dr. Jerry Nida receiving 240 hours of community service for signing time sheets that he knew were inaccurate.

In the mid-1990s, the department was caught up in the downfall of powerful political consultant Michael Williams, who was sued for mismanagement of its $3.5 million Healthy Futures campaign concerning childhood immunizations.

Terry Cline background and biography

First appointed by then-Gov. Brad Henry, Terry Cline became Oklahoma’s commissioner of health in 2009, succeeding Dr. Michael Crutcher.

Cline remained in the position following Gov. Mary Fallin’s election, focusing the agency’s messaging on improving overall health outcomes by targeting chronic conditions like tobacco use, diabetes and hypertension. Cline also voiced opposition to Medicaid expansion.

From 2001 to 2006, Cline served as commissioner of the Oklahoma Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services. From 2006 to 2008, he was an administrator with the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. From 2008 to 2009, he served as the federal Health and Human Services Department “health attaché”.

(Update: This story was updated at 9:30 a.m. Tuesday, Oct. 31, to add additional information.)