Like the rest of the state, Bryan County’s health department is struggling with funding cuts and the resulting staff decreases, and officials say it has impacted the department’s ability to serve its residents.
“You’re seeing fewer and fewer people,” Juli Montgomery, regional director for Bryan County, said.
The layoffs, often referred to as a RIF or reduction in force, resulted in the loss of three nurses, two social service specialists and the department’s environmental specialist, who had an 18-year tenure. Montgomery was quick to praise the hard work of the remaining staff in serving as many people as possible.
But the impact doesn’t just come from fewer people. For example, a program targeting child abuse prevention was eliminated, and since the nurses in that program were more senior — along with numerous other factors that were a part of the RIF rubric — they were moved, and nurses in the clinic were laid-off.
Montgomery said those nurses must be retrained for their new role.
“It’s kind of a slow start,” she said.
Last week, the Oklahoma State Department of Health announced it would restore $2 million in contract funding for the Office of Child Abuse Prevention.
Another area where the Bryan County department is struggling with low staffing numbers is in the area of health inspections. Montgomery, who also oversees the departments in Pushmataha, Choctaw and McCurtain counties, said the Bryan County department is borrowing inspectors from other counties to get the job done.
“We’re really struggling; we have some restaurants that need to be inspected,” she said.
Adding “we’ll get these done,” Montgomery explained Bryan County is using inspectors from other counties, but that means they have to drive.
The problem is compounded by an opening that has been vacant since November 2016. Montgomery said the department has had trouble hiring, especially on the heels of the cuts and a leadership shake-up at the state level.
“We’re lucky we’re going to be able to do that,” she said of hiring for the position.
Finally, the county’s clinic is not unaffected. All the clinics have been changed to walk-in only.
“We fit in as many walk-ins as we possibly can,” Montgomery said.
The limited capacity also lengthens the time people have to wait to return for follow up visits.
“We’re definitely having to turn people away,” Montgomery said.