Interim director: Skiatook office still in works

Robert Smith
Kelli Rader

The interim director of the Osage County Health Department on Monday told county commissioners that a satellite office planned for Skiatook is still in the works.

“We are moving forward with the Skiatook site, the satellite site,” Kelli Rader said. She is also interim director for Washington County and appeared before the county commissioners in Pawhuska two weeks after Larry Bergner, who was regional director for Osage and Washington and several other Oklahoma counties, was abruptly dismissed from his job.

Bergner’s termination has been a source of some controversy, and a online petition has been created on the Internet to seek his reinstatement. Health Department employees and community members who held a favorable view of Bergner were among the 142 people who had signed the petition by mid-day Monday.

Members of the Osage County Board of Commissioners were candid with Rader about having been caught off-guard by the firing of Bergner.

“We felt like Larry has done a good job for us, and we’re kind of shocked,” District 2 Commissioner Kevin Paslay said. Paslay represents the commissioners on the county health department’s board.

“We were kind of hit in the nose with the news of Larry,” District 3 Commissioner Darren McKinney said, also referring to the surprise firing. McKinney, who is board chairman, clarified during the discussion that the county board supports the Health Department and the commissioners are not opposed to Rader’s leadership of the local department.

District 1 Commissioner Randall Jones expressed a desire to meet with Rader at a later date to talk about funding questions.

Rader also retains her position as regional director for Kay, Payne, Noble and Pawnee counties. Her primary office location is in Stillwater. She indicated there is no firm timetable for how long she will be interim director for Osage and Washington counties. She told the Osage commissioners that any questions about personnel matters would have to be directed to the health department’s central office in Oklahoma City.

Rader said there is no timeline for opening the new Skiatook office, but her desire is for it to open as soon as possible. She cited a technical difficulty related to online connectivity as a reason why the Skiatook office is not yet open. She said the opening date had already been pushed back more than once. Rader also clarified that funding will be available for some new personnel to be hired for the Osage County Health Department.

Rader said the Skiatook office may be open two to three days a week to start off. On a normal business day there will likely be at least two and possibly three personnel working in that office, she said, but the number could be higher than that if special programming is planned and personnel are traveling to Skiatook to help provide that programming.

Rader said the Pawhuska office will remain the primary site for the Osage County Health Department.

Osage County provides funding for local Health Department operations through a quarter-penny of sales tax. The quarter-penny has been bringing in more money each of the past two years, as county sales tax receipts in general have been growing. For the 2018-19 fiscal year, which ended June 30, the quarter-penny for the Health Department generated roughly $900,000. Osage County records show the county Health Department encumbered about $572,000 during fiscal year 2018-19 and rolled forward a total reserve of about $3.6 million into the new fiscal year that began July 1.