Oklahoma State Department of Health officials have taken another step toward healing the relationship between the embattled agency and Pontotoc County, and it’s a big step.
OSDH has transferred responsibility for day-to-day operations of the Pontotoc County Health Department to a new administrative director, removing the facility from the region managed by D’Elbie Walker. Walker’s relationship with county commissioners became strained recently over billing and management issues at the local facility.
OSDH Regional Administrative Director Mendy Spohn will now supervise local health department operations. Spohn also oversees operations in Carter, Marshall and Johnston counties, among others.
Spohn met with District 3 Commissioner Justin Roberts on Wednesday to discuss plans to begin restoring service to county residents.
“You’re not getting much service right now because we have no staff, and that’s really the hardest thing right now,” Spohn told Roberts in a discussion held as the two pored over documents and data outlining operations and vacancies at the facility.
“It’s going to take some effort to build it back, and that’s going to include us, as a county, paying some … salaries,” Spohn said.
Roberts agreed, noting there would need to be further discussion about the precise role the county would play in funding health department operations going forward.
“At this point, I know I’m excited about the transition,” Roberts said as Spohn nodded in agreement.
“There are pieces to being a part of Pontotoc County that will help me a lot,” Spohn said, referencing her work with the Chickasaw Nation and other agencies in the region.
Spohn has been an OSDH administrator for 17 of her 25-year career with the agency.
“All of my counties are (within the Chickasaw Nation) and we’ve partnered a lot with them, so it’ll be nice to be in their headquarters where they work,” Spohn said.
For Spohn, communication and collective action are the keys to succeeding in Pontotoc County and beyond.
“I operate in a certain way, where the public’s health is the most important piece in what we do, and I see it as our position as regional administrators to respond to those needs, to respond to what our partners need and to act as a liaison … between the state level and the county,” Spohn said.
Roberts said the county looks forward to a new and more cooperative relationship with state health officials.