Salary for top health department job increased multiple times

The state health commissioner’s annual salary was $189,000 in 2019, before the pandemic began.

As of Jan. 1, 2021, the salary for the top job at the Oklahoma Health Department had risen to $335,160, according to an investigative audit report released last week.

“The commissioner’s salary increased several times during the audit period,” state auditors reported.

The audit focused on concerns about the Department of Health’s spending on pandemic supplies. Auditors found that the state prepaid $5.4 million for goods and services that were never delivered.

Then-Attorney General Mike Hunter asked state auditor Cindy Byrd in April 2020 to review the purchases.

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The request came after media revelations that the state was dealing with companies that were under criminal investigation, were just getting started or had no experience in providing protective equipment individual.

The auditors said they also considered “several concerns…brought to our attention regarding significant salary increases for those in management positions” after Gary Cox was appointed as commissioner in September 2019.

The chief of staff’s annual salary increased by $25,750 to $146,350, according to the audit. The annual salary for the communications office position increased by $36,932 to $118,827.

In addition, a new Deputy Chief of Staff position was created at a salary of $80,000 per year.

The auditors compared the salaries to those paid at two state agencies of similar size and nature – the Oklahoma Health Care Authority and the Department of Human Services.

“With the exception of the commissioner’s salary, which is significantly higher than that of OHCA and DHS directors, all salary increases were justified based on the position, and salaries appeared reasonable,” the auditors reported.

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Cox left the Department of Health in May 2020 because the state Senate never confirmed his appointment. The next commissioner, Lance Frye, served until last October. Now the top job belongs to Keith Reed.

The commissioner’s salary went from $189,000 to $196,000 to $215,188 to $322,782 to $335,160, according to the audit.

The audit ended a year ago, so the report released last week does not reflect any increases since then.

Auditors reported that the January 1, 2021 increase was made under the direction of Governor Kevin Stitt’s Cabinet Secretary for Health, Kevin Corbett.

Corbett wrote in an email that he was doing so under the authority of the governor, according to the audit.

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