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Health Commissioner Warns Oklahoma Lawmakers to Prepare Public Health System Now for Next Pandemic

Facebook / Gov. Kevin Stitt

Interim State Health Commissioner Lance Frye told Oklahoma lawmakers while the state is now in a prolonged mitigation phase of handling the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s time to start thinking ahead.

"We do need to look forward to what the next decade of public health is going to look like. We know that the prior infrastructure was not invested in. It just couldn’t do the job when it needed to," Frye said Tuesday during an interim study.

Frye said Oklahoma was in crisis mode during the early days of the pandemic, struggling to acquire and distribute personal protective equipment, dealing with almost nonexistent testing capacity and having a lack of communication between agencies and sometimes even within a single agency. Frye said besides improving Oklahoma’s public health infrastructure, officials need to create a better culture at the state health department

"To just be blunt, a lot of times they were uninterested in performing or were even obstructionist to the process, and we realize that is a culture that’s probably been around for a long time. And we’re going to have to make a culture change moving forward," Frye said.

Frye said officials also need to figure out how to increase the rural health system’s capacity before another pandemic.

Frye told lawmakers the state’s pandemic response goal from the outset was to minimize an expected surge in cases so hospitals could handle it.

Matt Trotter joined KWGS as a reporter in 2013. Before coming to Public Radio Tulsa, he was the investigative producer at KJRH. His freelance work has appeared in the Los Angeles Times and on MSNBC and CNN.
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