Local & Regional

U.S. Department of State

The Oklahoma Republican Party on Tuesday again urged followers to mount a pressure campaign on fellow Republican Gov. Kevin Stitt to oppose the resettlement of Afghan refugees in Oklahoma. 

Chairman John Bennett said in a Facebook video that he does not believe the federal government has properly vetted Afghans fleeing the Taliban who are being brought to the United States, despite the State Department's insistence to the contrary.

Chris Polansky / KWGS News

The office of Gov. Kevin Stitt Tuesday again declined to answer the question of why the governor removed the only two physicians from the Oklahoma Health Care Authority board earlier this month.

Tuesday's top stories:

• The Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board is recommending that Gov. Kevin Stitt commute the death sentence of Julius Jones, convicted of a 1999 murder he maintains he did not commit.

• A Yukon elementary school teacher has become at least the fifth known educator or school support staff member in Oklahoma to die of COVID-19 since July.

The Oklahoma Pardon and Parole board has voted to commute Julius Jones’ death sentence to life in prison with a possibility of parole. The recommendation will now head to Gov. Kevin Stitt who has the final say.

The vote came after the parole board’s first ever enhanced commutation hearing. A number of people spoke at the hearing, including murder victim Paul Howell’s brother Bill Howell. He said the supporters who’ve been advocating for Jones haven’t been following the case since it was opened in 1999.

Courtesy

The nonprofit Reading Partners is branching out after eight years in Tulsa.

The organization is bringing volunteer tutors to students at Union’s Roy Clark, Grove, McAuliffe and Peters elementary schools this fall. Reading Partners already serves more than two dozen Tulsa Public Schools sites.

Reading Partners Tulsa Executive Director Heather Kawlra said talks with Union administrators started about two years ago.

Oklahoma State University

Tulsa County Commissioners on Monday approved their biggest allocation of American Rescue Plan funding to date: $4 million for the expansion of OSU Medical Center.

The medical center received $120 million from Congress for a new veterans hospital, and the City of Tulsa and private donors have given money to OSU for what’s billed as the biggest downtown development in decades. Board of County Commissioners Chair Stan Sallee said OSU has also been in talks to double the capacity of the psychiatric hospital.

The Oklahoma Blood Institute has joined six other community blood centers in a nationwide reserve for emergencies.

Partners in the Blood Emergency Readiness Corps, or BERC, have committed to collecting extra units of blood on a rotating, on-call schedule. That blood will be held for scenarios like mass shootings, natural disasters or, as OBI President and CEO Dr. John Armitage pointed out 20 years after 9/11, a terrorist attack.

The Tulsa Transit board has approved raises for the agency's senior managers.

A recent study looking at comparable transit systems found members of Tulsa Transit's management team are paid on average 79% of what their peers across the country make. The agency will spend about $51,500 a year to bring them to 90% of market rates.

General Manager Ted Rieck said without the raises, Tulsa Transit runs the risk of losing managers with transferable skills, like its human resources, information technology and maintenance directors, as well as its chief financial officer.

Monday's top stories:

• The Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board on Monday will consider a commutation request from high-profile death row inmate Julius Jones.

• The Oklahoma Blood Institute is joining a consortium of other states' blood centers in a new partnership meant to boost the supply of blood products for potential emergency situations.

The request by Oklahoma County District Attorney David Prater to block two parole board members from Julius Jones’s commutation hearing has been denied by the state Supreme Court.

 

The order denying Prater’s request to have Adam Luck and Kelly Doyle refrain from taking part in Monday’s commutation proceedings was handed down shortly after a hearing that took place Friday afternoon.

 

Chris Polansky / KWGS News

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — Oklahoma Attorney General John O’Connor has appealed a state judge’s temporary injunction that prohibits the state from banning mask mandates in public schools.

The appeal, filed Thursday, cited the state’s sovereign immunity and argued that the law passed earlier this year by the Legislature is constitutional.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

The latest coronavirus variant of interest has been confirmed in Oklahoma.

The Oklahoma State Department of Health says the Mu variant appeared in 13 lab samples between May 20 and Aug. 10. The World Health Organization has designated Mu a variant of interest because preliminary evidence shows it may be able to escape antibodies acquired through vaccination or previous infection.

Another Tulsa school district is implementing a mask requirement.

The Union Public Schools Board voted 4–0 in a special meeting Friday in favor of mask mandates that apply to all students, employees and visitors while indoors on school property. The mandates kick in Wednesday but allow medical and religious exemptions, and people can opt out on the basis of "strongly held personal reasons."

Superintendent Dr. Kirt Hartzler recommended the mandates earlier this week. Board member Dr. Chris McNeil was absent Friday.

U.S. Department of State

Catholic Charities of Eastern Oklahoma is preparing to welcome and help resettle hundreds of Afghan refugees in Tulsa in the coming weeks and months, with the first arrivals possible within the coming days.

"We'll be welcoming those families very soon into our community," said Deacon Kevin Sartorius. He said they expect roughly 200 families for a total of about 800 individuals.

Each of the families has at least one member who aided the U.S. mission during the war in Afghanistan, Sartorius said, and all have been vetted and approved by the State Department.

Friday's top stories:

• Officials at the Oklahoma State Department of Health say they've abandoned a plan for a statewide contract to bring in more health care workers to aid strained hospitals amid the current COVID surge.

• The governor and several Oklahoma lawmakers are lashing out against the Biden administration's plans to get more Americans vaccinated.

• Tulsa is expected to receive roughly 800 Afghan refugees for resettlement in the coming weeks.

Oklahoma's Rural Power Grid Gets A Boost From The Feds

Sep 9, 2021
Photo from Public Service Company Oklahoma

Oklahoma is receiving a piece of $325 million dollars set aside by the federal government for an electric loan program meant to strengthen the rural power grid. 

 

US Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack spoke Thursday at a press conference. 

 

“These projects will help to improve the efficiency of nearly 1,500 miles of electric lines that will increase reliability and provide for a more resilient system.”

 

Vilsack said the money is going to rural electric cooperatives, or RECs, who then strengthen power lines as they see fit. 

 

Tulsa Recycle Transfer Facility

The facility that processes recycling for Tulsa-area communities will not reopen until late December at the earliest, but it will boast an improved sorting system when it does.

The Tulsa Recycle Transfer facility, or TRT, was badly damaged and its sorting equipment destroyed by a fire April 1. The blaze was sparked by a lithium-ion battery in the recycling stream.

U.S. Department of Defense

Oklahoma health officials said Thursday while state- and hospital-reported capacity numbers are not matching up, they are aware of the strain on health care facilities because of an influx of COVID-19 patients.

State Health Commissioner Dr. Lance Frye said the issue is the state health department and hospitals give point-in-time counts at different times, and data comes second to patient care, so it may not always be exact. Frye said the health department is working with hospitals to close reporting gaps.

Thursday's top stories:

• Doctors at the Children's Hospital at Saint Francis say pediatric COVID admissions are rising rapidly and "exponentially."

• With hundreds of Afghan refugees due to arrive in the state in coming weeks and months, the Oklahoma Republican Party says the families are not welcome here and is calling on lawmakers to prevent them from entering.

The medical community is largely in agreement that COVID-19 is or will inevitably become a fixture of life, meaning it’s endemic. 

 

Jennifer Clark of OSU’s Project ECHO spoke today at an update for healthcare providers.

 

“One of the things that’s become a consensus believe it or not is that COVID-19 is likely now endemic. Early on, particularly as the vaccines were rolling out with the effectiveness and the efficiency that we started with, there was a potential for us a species to eradicate COVID-19. Unfortunately we missed it.”

 

Oklahoma Department of Corrections

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — The Oklahoma attorney general’s office has asked the state’s Court of Criminal Appeals to push back execution dates for seven death row inmates based on requirements to give a 35-day notice before any execution.

Attorney General John O’Connor asked the court in a brief filed Friday to schedule John Marion Grant’s execution for Oct. 28 or Nov. 18. Six other executions would be set at three-week intervals to allow for potential clemency hearings, according to The Oklahoman.

Matt Trotter / KWGS

State and local officials celebrated on Tuesday the opening of a tech incubator inside Tulsa City Hall.

There are now 50,000 square feet on the fifth floor of One Technology Center available for entrepreneurs looking to get their ideas off the ground through 36 Degrees North, which also has two coworking spaces in the Tulsa Arts District. CEO Devon Laney said the incubator is more than a place to bounce ideas off of other people.

Oklahoma Republican Party

The Oklahoma Republican Party on Saturday said the state should not welcome Afghan refugees fleeing Taliban rule following the U.S. military withdrawal from Afghanistan.

In a video posted to the party's Facebook page, party chair John Bennett called on Oklahomans to speak up about the fact that they are anti-refugee.

"I encourage you to call and email the governor, call and email your legislators, and tell them: Do not allow Afghan refugees into Oklahoma," said Bennett, who, in addition to leading the state GOP, is also an Assembly of God preacher at a church in Muldrow. 

Saint Francis Health System

COVID-19 admissions are rising "exponentially" at the Children's Hospital at Saint Francis, doctors said Tuesday.

"You're going to see about a six and a half-time increase in hospitalizations" from the start of June through the end of August, said Dr. Travis Campbell, chair of the pediatrics department and the children's hospital, said during a virtual press briefing Tuesday afternoon. 

Wednesday's top stories:

• Hospital officials say the latest COVID surge in Oklahoma is exacerbating the state's ongoing nursing shortage.

• The ombudsman for Oklahoma's long-term care facilities says low pay in that industry is contributing to a staffing shortage there, too.

Stitt Announces Another Resignation

Sep 7, 2021

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — David Ostrowe is resigning as Gov. Kevin Stitt’s Digital Transformation and Administration secretary, Stitt’s office announced late Friday.

Stitt said in a statement that he had accepted the resignation of Ostrowe, who “will focus on his successful restaurant management business and pursue other personal interests.”

Ostrowe’s resignation takes effect Sept. 7.

Photo via Corian.com

Hospital officials told Oklahoma lawmakers on Tuesday they are struggling with the latest COVID-19 surge because there are not enough nurses to go around, hurting patient care and their bottom lines.

Tulsa Police

Tulsa Police said on Tuesday the first 30 days of a new initiative aimed at taking on an uptick in violent crime led to dozens of arrests and the seizure of more than 200 guns.

Chief Wendell Franklin said TPD crime analysts have been looking into more than 80 incidents going back to April to help officers’ on-the-ground investigations.

File Photo / Matt Trotter / KWGS

Gov. Kevin Stitt has removed the only two doctors on the state board that oversees the agency administering the state's Medicaid program. 

 

Dr. Jean Hausheer and Dr. Laura Shamblin were dismissed from the Oklahoma Health Care Authority’s board by the governor over the weekend. 

 

Pages