OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — The Oklahoma State Health Department has no record of receiving more than $20 million worth of personal protective equipment that it bought to help protect against COVID-19, a state audit revealed.
The state auditor released a report Tuesday that found 28 wire payments from the Health Department totaling $20,431,981 without documentation that the purchased PPE was received. The equipment is worn to minimize exposure to hazards that cause serious injuries and illnesses, including COVID-19.
The news website The Frontier first reported the audit's findings.
The audit also found that the Oklahoma State Department of Health made 18 wire transfers totaling more than $18 million during the 2020 fiscal year that weren't entered into the state’s accounting system. Eight of those payments, amounting to nearly $11 million, were put into the accounting system after that fiscal year had ended, with the remaining 10 payments of about $7.6 million not entered into the system until late September.
Purchasing regulations were relaxed during the coronavirus pandemic to allow the department to make emergency payments, the report said. A number of sellers required advance payments for PPE, which was in high demand during the beginning of the pandemic.
“However, making advanced payments did not negate the agency’s responsibility for recording the expenditure into the statewide accounting system,” according to the report.
In response, the Health Department said it doesn't usually use wire payments to conduct purchases, acknowledging that “mistakes were made.”
“During the pandemic, we temporarily followed common practice to pay a deposit to secure an order for personal protective equipment that was in high demand and essential to obtain to protect frontline workers,” the department said. “This practice is no longer used.”
State Health Commissioner Dr. Lance Frye said Wednesday in a statement that his agency is committed to addressing the audit, noting that the audit touches on decisions that were made under a previous administration. He added that the findings are "are key as we continue reviewing all of our agency’s processes to ensure that our financial transactions are secure, properly documented and transparent — now and in the future.”
In April 2020, Oklahoma Attorney General Mike Hunter requested a separate investigative audit of the Health Department over concerns about the agency’s pandemic spending.
“After the auditor finishes her work and the final results are provided to our office, we will take appropriate action to address it,” Hunter said.