Gov. Kevin Stitt announced his appointment of Gary Cox as commissioner of health this afternoon. Cox will assume control of the Oklahoma State Department of Health, a state agency with a lengthy history of political scandal.
“I am honored to serve Gov. Stitt, Secretary (Jerome) Loughridge and the people of Oklahoma as commissioner of health,” Cox said in a press release distributed by Stitt’s office. “Alongside the dedicated professionals at the Oklahoma State Department of Health, I look forward to developing innovative strategies toward improving the quality of life for all Oklahomans, which is key to Oklahoma becoming a top 10 state.”
Cox has more than 40 years of public health experience, having served at separate times as the director of the Tulsa Health Department and, most recently, the Oklahoma City-County Health Department. He will take over for Tom Bates, whom Stitt has assigned a new task aimed at making Oklahoma’s social services more accessible.
“We have the ingredients in place, and I am committed to strengthening our ability to innovate and leverage cross-sector partnerships toward impacting Oklahoma’s most critical health-related outcomes,” Cox said in the release.
Stitt called Cox “respected and dedicated.”
“His guidance at the OSDH will play a critical role in our vision to improve health outcomes for all Oklahomans, and I look forward to accomplishing top 10 results together as we work to efficiently and effectively deliver services and move the needle in this critical area,” Stitt said in the release.
Scott Mitchell, a board member of the Oklahoma City-County Health Department, said Cox has served OCCHD well for the past decade. Mitchell and his fellow board members had just concluded a meeting Thursday afternoon in which Cox submitted his resignation.
“If the data don’t support it, Gary Cox doesn’t do it,” Mitchell said. “The fact is that health outcomes are based on determinants that we haven’t tracked in Oklahoma. The agency is about to be run by someone who cares about data, not politics, not cronyism, not cognitive dissonance.
“Special interests will howl because all Gary cares about is what the data say.”
Background on the OSDH
The Oklahoma State Department of Health came under federal and state review in October 2017 after the agency’s antiquated financial system lost track of $30 million in federal funding. The scandal yielded the resignation of longtime commissioner of health Terry Cline and resulted in a series of recommendations from the state’s multi-county grand jury, which have mostly not been followed.