Jones continues to make case for investments

Robert Smith

District 1 Commissioner Randall Jones continued Monday to make his case for investments in health equipment upgrades for Osage County.

Jones explained Aug. 3 to other county officials that he planned to raise questions in a county health board meeting on Aug. 4, and in separate conversations with state public health officials, about investing portions of a multi-million-dollar surplus of Osage County health funds in better equipment and, if necessary, in staff to handle that equipment.

He said Monday, Aug. 10 that he asked questions last week but didn’t get the answers he wanted.

Jones voiced particular interest Aug. 3 in having machinery and possibly staff to offer rapid-turnaround testing for COVID-19 in Osage County. He cited an approximately $4-million surplus of funds for public health that the county has generated through sales taxation, and said he thought the taxpayers of Osage County deserve to benefit from that money. Jones also said Aug. 3 that he has been a defender of the state health department, but that state officials need to understand they’re putting him in a position where it’s hard for him to continue to defend them.

In comments this Monday, Jones said he had a conversation with regional health director Kelli Rader, in which he told her that he has no plans to “walk back” what he said last week.

Jones also said Monday that he thinks the staff members of the Osage County Health Department are very professional and impressive, and do a good job.

“I think they understand we’re trying to get them the tools they need,” Jones said, explaining that he thinks staff members in Osage County know he and other county commissioners want the county staff and county residents to have first-rate health care equipment. “I’m not asking for anything we can’t pay for.”

Jones gave a fresh example Monday of what he’s talking about. He mentioned that the state health department is looking at using mobile clinics to help provide services. He clarified, however, that it was his understanding the state means to provide a single mobile care unit for the multi-county region in which Osage County is located.

“Well, that is not going to work for Osage County,” Jones said. He added Monday that he thinks state health department officials seem to view things in terms of the region, while Osage County commissioners are thinking in terms of the unique needs of their county.

“That’s where the rub is between us and them,” Jones said. He emphasized that Osage County, unlike many other Oklahoma counties, has levied sales tax to generate money for health care, and he returned to the subject of the county’s multi-million-dollar surplus. Jones acknowledged that differences between state health officials and Osage County date back for years — well before he became a commissioner.

Communication between state health officials and Osage County commissioners has been less than optimal, a point that Jones also made last week when he argued that state health officials could do a better job of providing needed information. He recalled a budget-related request that was sent forward to the commissioners for approval with very little explanatory detail.

When Rader’s predecessor as regional director, Larry Bergner, was dismissed by the state health department in mid-2019, the move caught Osage County officials off-guard, and District 2 Commissioner Kevin Paslay said at the time that Osage County officials felt Bergner had done a good job for them. Bergner had a reputation for finding creative ways to build relationships between the local health departments he oversaw and the surrounding communities.