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ICYMI

What you learn by working at the Oklahoma Health Department…

1:47 PM EDT on April 24, 2018

A few weeks back, following the conclusion of the Great Oklahoma Teachers Walkout of 2018, The Oklahoman produced an in-depth feature on the general mismanagement and financial failings of The Oklahoma Health Department.

Here's a snippet:

While most of Oklahoma City was taking a lunch break on a hot and sticky Thursday in late July, Jan Fox learned her office was facing a crisis.

A $600,000 bill to pay the insurance premiums of low-income HIV patients had arrived, but an email from the Oklahoma State Department of Health's payments office said the department couldn't cover the cost.

That couldn't be right. Fox, a career government employee who'd overseen the state's HIV program since 2010, knew the budget showed the HIV fund had $3.1 million available for bills like these...

But the money was gone.

Years' worth of misspending had grown into a multimillion dollar scandal that left the department, one of the state's largest, facing financial disaster. Warning signs had gone unheeded for months, and the day of reckoning was near for the $400 million agency.

The Oklahoman's report goes into great detail documenting those warning signs, how they worsened, and the general ineptitude of the people trying to fix them. You should check it out, but before you do...

During our most-recent call for new contributors, I was contacted by a long-time health department employee. We'll call him Guy Incognito. I asked Guy to write us an article about what it's like to actually work for the Oklahoma Health Department. This is what he delivered:

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5 Things I Learned While Working At Oklahoma Health Department by Guy Incognito

Working for the state of Oklahoma has taught me many things. I’ve learned that our public services continue to run despite our Tea Party government’s best efforts to drown them in the bathtub. They run on the backs of overworked, underpaid schlubs who still, through some insane combination of stubbornness, dedication, and extremely unfounded optimism, continue to do their jobs despite the exact opposite of support from the very top of the pyramid. This is through year after year of manufactured budget “crises”. No promotions. No raises. Hiring freezes. Benefit cuts. Despite all the negatives, I’ve also learned many funny and interesting things during my tenure. Such as:

1. You can name your kid anything you want – anything – and I’ve seen the evidence. Oklahoma parents have named their kids after their favorite cars, guns, video games, Game of Thrones characters, and illegal drugs. Along with the spelling errors expected of products of Oklahoma’s flagging education system, some parents attempt to bestow British-style titles upon their children at birth. Others go hog wild and throw a dozen aspirational adjectives in there. Amazingly, none of these names flag you for a visit from DHS. Your poor kid will just have to go through life explaining to every person they meet, “It’s like Emily, but with three ‘y’s and an umlaut.”

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Clark County Environmental Specialist Joan Lacey performs an inspection of Philly Bilmo with owner Michael Bitter on Wednesday January 29, 2014. The restaurant received a perfect score. (Zachary Kaufman/The Columbian)

2. Your favorite restaurant is nasty, and ignorance really is bliss. The more you know about the regulations the more you notice, like the buffet employee you watch dumping fresh nuggets on top of the ones that have already been sitting there since god knows when. Yeah, give ‘em a stir. That’ll help. Most people aren’t doing it maliciously. They’re just poor, underpaid scrubs barely scraping by while catching it from the management and the customers. Despite the inspectors’ best efforts, you really take your intestinal coherence into God’s hands every time you eat out. In fact, that faith-based approach is why your legislature is currently attempting to lower the number of annual restaurant inspections .

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3. The Health Department’s office wouldn’t pass its own inspections. The offices have carpets from the Ford Administration, broken break-room fridges that were just taped up and left there, drop ceilings literally duct taped together, cubicles that would make Dilbert cry assembled by convict labor, entire floors rendered uninhabitable for years by promised renovations that never happened, the air quality of a Beijing summer, and are all infested with cockroaches the size of almonds. If you see anyone cleaning with any enthusiasm, you know the Governor must be coming. What I’m saying is that if 1000 NE 10th Street were a hotel, the Gideon Bible would be bolted to the nightstand and it would rented out by the half-hour. At least there aren’t any bed bugs. Yet. That I know about.

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4. The basement is full of dog heads, and that’s not a Dr. Demento outtake. Every week cube-shaped cartloads of boxes labeled RABIES HEADS are wheeled into OSDH’s lab wing for rabies testing, which must be done posthumously. Since only the brain is tested, only the head is needed. When I first saw one of these grim batches I thought the boxes said, “BABIES HEADS”, so I was actually relieved to learn the truth.

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5. Previous management kept track of money about as well as your little brother did when he was the banker in Monopoly. The very same folks had previously put in place mandatory yearly ethics trainings where OSDH peons were lectured about the dangers of taking free donuts and pens at conventions. Maybe the bigwigs should have taken their own training. Or was it the people after that? The letterhead changes so fast these days it’s hard to keep track. Last year’s org chart has more red x’s on it than Putin’s hit list. Fortunately, those responsible for sacking the people who have just been sacked have been sacked.

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