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Attorney general seeks investigative audit of state health department amid COVID-19 pandemic

Attorney general seeks investigative audit of state health department amid COVID-19 pandemic

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OKLAHOMA CITY — Oklahoma Attorney General Mike Hunter on Tuesday asked for an investigative audit of the Oklahoma State Department of Health.

In a letter to State Auditor and Inspector Cindy Byrd, Hunter said that one of his duties “is to enforce the proper application of monies appropriated by the Legislature and to prosecute breaches of trust in the administration of such funds.”

The letter did not cite specific areas for the investigative audit.

The state has been spending millions to acquire personal protective equipment and other items during the COVID-19 outbreak.

Hunter’s letter comes after The Associated Press reported that Oklahoma was among at least 22 states and Washington, D.C., that purchased hydroxychloroquine, touted by President Donald Trump as a possible COVID-19 treatment, despite warnings that more research was needed.

Oklahoma spent $2 million on the purchase, according to The Associated Press.

Gov. Kevin Stitt on Tuesday was asked about the purchase during a Capitol news conference.

“You have got to understand that my goal as the governor is to protect the health and lives of Oklahomans,” Stitt said.

The governor said that in early March, hydroxychloroquine was shown to be a treatment and he directed that it be purchased.

Now, some other evidence indicates that it may not be effective, Stitt said.

“I was being proactive in trying to protect Oklahomans,” he said.

In a prepared statement released Tuesday evening, the governor said a “strategic financial team of public employees” was closely monitoring COVID 19-related spending and would be “prepared to account for every penny.”

“It is disappointing that the attorney general would see the need to entangle the agency with an investigation when it is in the midst of responding to the most historic pandemic of our time,” Stitt said. “I fully expect quick and thorough compliance as we have already put strong reporting requirements in place.”

Health Department Commissioner Gary Cox said his agency was committed to full transparency.

“Every step of the way, the agency has been above board and quick to provide information, where legally able, on our transactions to anyone who asks, and we are confident the financial review will demonstrate our efforts for excellence to protect public health,” Cox said. “OSDH is prepared to comply and provide any and all information requested by State Auditor Cindy Byrd and her staff.”

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Barbara Hoberock 405-528-2465

Twitter: @bhoberock

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