Health Care

Ray Carter | August 7, 2019

Stitt continues to reshape government leadership

Ray Carter

Gov. Kevin Stitt announced Monday that Kevin Corbett will be the new director of the state’s Medicaid agency, continuing Stitt’s practice of prioritizing individuals with private-sector business expertise when making appointments.

In a release, Stitt said Corbett’s “financial expertise and strong organizational leadership will serve the Health Care Authority and the State of Oklahoma well. Corbett will bring his wealth of experience in accounting and consulting to ensure OHCA’s $6 billion budget is being delivered on target and to effectively partner with other state agencies to improve care for the most vulnerable in our state.”

The Oklahoma Health Care Authority administers the state’s Medicaid program, which provides taxpayer-funded payments for health care treatment for certain lower-income individuals who do not have private health insurance. It is one of the state’s largest agencies.

Corbett’s background is in business finance. He previously served as the interim chief financial officer at Lagoon Water Solutions and was a senior partner and risk-advisory practice leader with Ernst & Young, retiring in 2017 with more than 38 years of service.

The release announcing Corbett’s appointment noted he had advised “some of the largest companies in the U.S. and abroad” and been involved in public offerings, merger and acquisitions, debt restructurings, bankruptcy proceedings, risk management, “and transformational change.”

Corbett holds a bachelor’s degree in accounting from Oklahoma State University and is also a graduate of the executive management program at the Kellogg School of Management, Northwestern University. Corbett is a CPA licensed in Oklahoma and Texas and a member of the National Association of Corporate Directors.

A major focus of Stitt’s first-year agenda was to obtain authority to appoint the heads of state agencies, ensuring the state’s chief executive would have the powers of a traditional chief executive in the private sector.

Lawmakers responded favorably to that request, passing legislation that allows Stitt to name the directors of five of Oklahoma’s largest agencies. Stitt has already made appointments at two of those agencies, reappointing Steven Buck to lead the Office of Juvenile Affairs and naming Tim Gatz as director of the Department of Transportation.

Stitt has also appointed Justin Brown, the Oklahoma City owner of several assisted living centers, to lead the Department of Human Services. The head of DHS has been a gubernatorial appointee since voter passage of reforms in 2012.

Stitt has not yet named appointees for leadership positions at the Department of Corrections and Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services.

On July 30, Rebecca Pasternik-Ikard, the current chief executive officer of the Oklahoma Health Care Authority and state Medicaid director, announced her retirement effective Oct. 1. She had held the agency’s top job since October 2016 and her resignation was interpreted as a sign Stitt was preparing to appoint new leadership. Corbett will begin leading OHCA on August 15, and his appointment will require Senate confirmation in the 2020 legislative session.

Other agency leaders have either been displaced or resigned since Stitt has begun making appointments. Brown replaced Ed Lake, who had led DHS for almost seven years as an appointee of former Gov. Mary Fallin, while Joe Allbaugh abruptly stepped down as the director of the Oklahoma Department of Corrections in June.

At a press conference conducted shortly after the announcement of Allbaugh’s resignation, Stitt stressed that future agency leaders should be prepared to undergo greater scrutiny.

“I want Oklahomans to know this. They elected me to do things differently, so we are bringing new people into these boards and we are bringing these new thoughts into the management of these state agencies. And so with that they ask a lot of questions,” Stitt said. “And before I put somebody on a board, I expect them to not just be business-as-usual. I want them digging into the details. I want them questioning the executive directors, and I want them challenging and hold them accountable. That’s what a board is supposed to do. And so sometimes the pressure and the heat starts intensifying and you’ll see folks that decide they’d rather go do something else, and that’s fine. We’ll make sure we move forward.”

Ray Carter Director, Center for Independent Journalism

Ray Carter

Director, Center for Independent Journalism

Ray Carter is the director of OCPA’s Center for Independent Journalism. He has two decades of experience in journalism and communications. He previously served as senior Capitol reporter for The Journal Record, media director for the Oklahoma House of Representatives, and chief editorial writer at The Oklahoman. As a reporter for The Journal Record, Carter received 12 Carl Rogan Awards in four years—including awards for investigative reporting, general news reporting, feature writing, spot news reporting, business reporting, and sports reporting. While at The Oklahoman, he was the recipient of several awards, including first place in the editorial writing category of the Associated Press/Oklahoma News Executives Carl Rogan Memorial News Excellence Competition for an editorial on the history of racism in the Oklahoma legislature.

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