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Governor's staff to focus on Oklahoma's biggest health challenges first

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Oklahoma's health challenges include obesity, heart disease, smoking, infant mortality and opioid addiction. [THE OKLAHOMAN ARCHIVES]
Oklahoma's health challenges include obesity, heart disease, smoking, infant mortality and opioid addiction. [THE OKLAHOMAN ARCHIVES]

State officials are close to pinning down which big health issues will be targeted first by the Stitt administration, Jerome Loughridge, Oklahoma's new secretary of health and mental health, said Monday.

"We're going to take on the most intractable problems," Loughridge said."Right now we are defining — we call them rocks — what are the big rocks that are going to constitute our first objectives."

Oklahoma's health challenges include obesity, heart disease, smoking, infant mortality and opioid addiction.

"We're going to be very focused on targeting which ones are first," Loughridge said Monday following a meeting of the reorganized Oklahoma Health Care Authority Board.

Gov. Kevin Stitt appointed Loughridge, an energy industry executive, to the secretary post last month, citing his record of helping organizations function well and leading large teams.

Loughridge said he wants to bring "Oklahoma common sense principles" to tough and challenging health problems.

"Oklahoma Health Care Authority has some fantastically talented people, exceptionally well-meaning," he said. "What we have within our capacity is to just bring some of the rigor, some of the focus, some of the process orientation."

Loughridge said the governor's choice of himself and colleagues like John Budd, secretary of agency accountability, and Dr. Kayse Shrum, secretary of science and innovation, will put "new eyes" on Oklahoma's health problems and find ways to "leverage the talent we already have."

"Our objective is that we be known within the next four-year period for things that we've done right, innovations that we've done intelligently, and focus that we've put where it belongs, rather than for bad outcomes," Loughridge said. "We're going to be known for 'wow,' how far we move the ball, instead of where we sit."

A law passed this year gives the governor the power to appoint a majority of members on boards and commissions for various agencies, including the OHCA, which administers the state's Medicaid program.

The new OHCA Board still lacks two appointments, but the seven members who have been named met Monday to approve rule changes that had to be submitted by day's end to the secretary of state. They elected Stanley Hupfeld, chairman, and Alex Yaffee, vice chairman, to serve temporarily until the full board is in place.

Stitt appointments to the board are Hupfeld, Jean Renee Hausheer, Laura Shamblin, Marc Nuttle and Philip Kennedy. House Speaker Charles McCall appointed Yaffe and Tanya Case.

The final two members will be named by Senate President Pro Tem Greg Treat. Spokesman Aaron Cooper said Treat is vetting candidates for his two appointments and "is working to finalize those appointments as soon as possible."

K.S. McNutt

Kathryn McNutt covers higher education for The Oklahoman and NewsOK. Since joining the staff in August 2000, she also has worked as the Breaking News editor, Metro editor and assistant Local editor. A native of Oklahoma City, she graduated from... Read more ›

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