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Health Leaders, Elected Officials Learn About Tulsa’s Health Department

Deborah Shaar
KMUW/File photo

A group of Wichita-area health leaders and elected officials toured the Tulsa Health Department last weekend. As KMUW's Deborah Shaar reports, it was the first step in a new Public Health Sister City Program.

Ten people went on the trip, including Sedgwick County Commissioner Jim Howell, City Council Member Janet Miller, Health Department Director Adrienne Byrne-Lutz and health leaders from the Medical Society of Sedgwick County and Wichita State University. The group met with nearly two dozen health and economic leaders about the structure and core functions of the Tulsa Health Department.

“I do think that this was a great first step in helping us see what we do good, and what we do poorly, what we can do better and where are the opportunities for improvement and looking at other communities and seeing how they do it," says Commissioner Jim Howell.

Howell says funding for the Tulsa Health Department is different than in Sedgwick County. He says the Oklahoma Legislature has set up a revenue stream specifically for the health department.

"They have a much larger budget overall. About 40 percent of their money comes from property taxes and the remainder of that comes from fees, grants and federal dollars that are passed through the state," he says. "It’s interesting in terms of the population on how much money they spend."

Howell says another take-away from the meetings is that an independent board makes decisions about health services provided by the Tulsa Health Department.

In Sedgwick County, the commissioners are the governing board of the health department. The county cut more than $500,000 from the health department’s budget this year. County funding stands at about $11.6 million dollars; Howell says the health department’s budget request for next year tops $12 million.

He says the Tulsa Health Department is housed on a “hospital-like” campus with eight satellite offices throughout Tulsa. He says the department has about 340 full-time positions.

"Our spending per person is obviously less, but we’re also providing some great services. In fact, our health outcomes in Kansas appear to be very comparable, in my opinion, to what we are seeing in Oklahoma. And in many measures, we’re actually better off than they are in Oklahoma," he says.

A group of local health professionals created the “Coalition of Coalitions Building the Case for Public Health in Sedgwick County” campaign and organized the sister city program. A grant from the Kansas Health Foundation is funding the program.

A group of Tulsa health leaders plan to visit Sedgwick County in a few months.


Follow Deborah Shaar on Twitter @deborahshaar.

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