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Oklahoma Watch

Oklahoma Watch is a non-profit organization that produces in-depth and investigative journalism on important public-policy issues facing the state. Oklahoma Watch is non-partisan and strives to be balanced, fair, accurate and comprehensive. The reporting project collaborates on occasion with other news outlets. Topics of particular interest include poverty, education, health care, the young and the old, and the disadvantaged.

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Hospitals: Patients Eligible For Free Care Fail To Complete Paperwork

Nov 5, 2013
Wagoner County Economic Development Authority / State of Oklahoma

At least 40 nonprofit or government-owned hospitals in Oklahoma spent less than 1 percent of their net patient revenues caring for those who couldn’t afford to pay their medical bills, records show.

The data, obtained by Oklahoma Watch and analyzed and reported with the Tulsa World, covers 2011 and 2012. Some hospitals reported spending below 1 percent during both years while only one year of data was available for others.

Most of the hospitals with charity care below 1 percent had negative operating margins but a few did not.

New Data Reveals Widespread Financial Losses Among Small Oklahoma Hospitals

Oct 28, 2013
Bruce Mayhan, lab manager at Pauls Valley General Hospital, looks at a blood sample through a microscope in the hospital’s lab.
Clifton Adcock / Oklahoma Watch

A majority of small general hospitals in Oklahoma are losing money, and health care officials warn that some hospitals could close, be sold or cut services.

Federal financial reports for nearly every hospital in the state, obtained by Oklahoma Watch and analyzed and reported with the Tulsa World, show that in each year from 2009 to 2012, between half and three-fourths of general hospitals with fewer than 100 beds lost money. Most are in small cities or rural areas. More than half posted losses in multiple years.

Larger hospitals fared better. In each year during the four-year period, between 7 percent and 19 percent of general hospitals with 100 beds or more lost money.

Texas State Offender Registry

View a map showing officers with certification actions.

In July 2010, a former Kingfisher County Sheriff’s Office deputy pleaded no contest to a charge of committing lewd acts with a child when he was an officer two years earlier.

Shawn Theo Thomsen, then 43, was given a five-year suspended sentence, court records show. Now living in Texas, he’s required to register as a sex offender for the rest of his life.

Despite the crime, Thomsen is still certified as a peace officer by the Council on Law Enforcement and Education, or CLEET. State law requires that the state agency take away certification for an officer who pleads guilty or no contest to a felony charge, thus removing him or her from law enforcement.

Government Shutdown Could Curb Benefits For Oklahoma Women, Children

Oct 3, 2013
woman and child in a WIC office
U.S. Department of Agriculture / Flickr Creative Commons

If the partial shutdown of the federal government continues for weeks, it could lead to cutbacks in the federally funded program that helps low-income women, infants and children in Oklahoma, officials said Wednesday.

One possible result could be limiting the aid provided under the federal Women, Infants and Children program to only one or two of those groups, such as infants.

Clifton Adcock / Oklahoma Watch

Apprehension and optimism abound in Oklahoma as the Affordable Care Act shifts into higher gear with the opening of the federally-run health-care marketplace on Oct. 1.

At the same time, residents and business owners are awaiting the unveiling of an “Oklahoma Plan” to expand health coverage and improve health outcomes that Gov. Mary Fallin promised in her State of the State speech earlier this year.

These and other topics were discussed Tuesday evening during Oklahoma Watch’s first “Oklahoma Watch-Out” community forum at Kamps 1910 Café in Oklahoma City.

Bonnie Campo / Oklahoma Watch

Hugh Meade hopes he can find a health plan that costs less than his home mortgage. Katie Bolin is looking for an insurer who won’t turn her down for pre-existing conditions. Ricardo Lopez Jr. wants coverage so he can stop going to free clinics.

Meade, Bolin and Lopez are among several hundred thousand uninsured Oklahomans whose lives could change when the next phase of the Affordable Care Act takes effect.

Oklahoma Watch

During most of the past two decades, the annual number of alcohol-related traffic deaths across the country has fallen by about 20 percent, to more than 11,500.

More stringent drunken driving laws, widespread public education campaigns and safer vehicles have all played a role in that sharp reduction.

In Oklahoma, however, it’s been a much different story. Despite having the same safer vehicles, increased educational efforts and tougher laws, the state saw a 10 percent increase in alcohol-related traffic deaths between 1994 and 2012. The trend mystifies state public-safety officials.

a stack of dollar bills with a stethoscope and bottle of pills
James Martin / Flickr

Three large insurance companies are planning to offer health policies to individual Oklahomans at rates ranging from less than $100 to more than $1,000 per month through the new insurance marketplace being set up under the Affordable Care Act.

The rates posted by Aetna Life Insurance Co., Blue Cross Blue Shield of Oklahoma and Coventry Health & Life Insurance Co. for policies they will offer under the health-care law vary widely based on age, geographic location, tobacco use and plan type.

United States Army

Oklahoma veterans and active-duty military personnel are killing themselves at twice the rate of civilians, despite increased efforts to address the problem.

The 2011 suicide rate for soldiers was about 44 per 100,000 population, according to an Oklahoma Watch analysis of Oklahoma State Department of Health data. This rate includes active-duty military as well as veterans from the post-9/11 wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Gulf War, Vietnam, Korea and World War II. The civilian rate for people over the age of 18 was about 22 per 100,000.

For Many Oklahomans, The Doctor Is Not In

Sep 2, 2013
Dr. Maha Sultan, who practices in Frederick in southwest Oklahoma, is one of only three licensed doctors in Tillman County.
Frederick Press-Leader

Despite efforts to increase the number of doctors in rural areas, many Oklahoma counties are still sorely lacking physicians to provide sufficient care to their residents.

Is there a doctor shortage in your county?

Seventy-two of the state’s 77 counties, or 94 percent, are designated by the federal government as shortage areas for primary health professionals; 30 have 10 or fewer doctors of any kind. The five counties not considered shortage areas are Oklahoma, Johnston, Canadian, Rogers and Wagoner, according to the U.S. Health Resources and Services Administration.

Oklahoma Watch

Several years ago, legislators in both Oklahoma and North Carolina began taking steps to address rising incarceration rates.

The number of incarcerated offenders in Oklahoma had increased by a few thousand inmates in the past decade, giving the state one of the highest rates of imprisonment in the nation.

The prison population was growing at a similar pace in North Carolina, and officials were expecting an additional 10 percent increase by 2020.

graph of the results of the point-in-time homeless count
Oklahoma Watch

Nearly 4,400 homeless Oklahomans were identified during the 2013 statewide count of homeless people, reflecting a slight decrease over two years ago, according to numbers released this week by state officials.

The statewide Point-in-time Homeless Count, which is conducted in January and mandated by the federal government every two years, seeks to identify each state’s homeless population. Some cities, including Oklahoma City and Tulsa, also do homeless counts in other years, but the statewide count is biennial.

It’s well known that college tuition and student debt rose steeply in Oklahoma over the past decade. But less familiar is how that trend has played out at individual colleges and types of schools.

The interactive graphic above adds clarity to the picture.

In the chart, each circle represents a school, is sized by enrollment and is colored by type of college – public, nonprofit or for-profit.

Warren Vieth / Oklahoma Watch

In just six weeks, nearly one in 10 Oklahomans will be able to buy subsidized health policies from private insurance companies through a new online marketplace set up by the federal government.

Many more who don’t qualify for the subsidies will still be able to shop on the marketplace and obtain coverage, even if they’ve been turned down in the past for pre-existing conditions.

But it won’t be simple. Several companies will offer policies, with different levels of coverage. Tax credits will be available for people falling within certain income ranges. Many people will need one-on-one assistance to navigate the registration process.

Oklahoma’s arrest rate for marijuana possession is slightly above the national rate, and arrest rates vary considerably among counties, according to an Oklahoma Watch analysis of 10 years’ worth of FBI data.

Click on a button to see a county’s rate of arrests for marijuana possession. Each button is placed on a county seat. The red buttons denote the counties with the highest rates.

State Leaders, Workers Enjoy Ample Health Benefits

Aug 6, 2013
Oklahoma Capitol Building
ana branca / Flickr

When Gov. Mary Fallin and Lt. Gov. Todd Lamb go see their primary-care doctors, they pay $30 out of pocket. Their prescriptions cost $10 if they get generics, more if they get name-brand drugs.

Oklahoma taxpayers pick up the entire cost of their insurance premiums, which total $18,113 per year for each of their families.

In fact, the health allowance they receive from the state totals $19,717 a year. They can use the surplus to pay for other state benefits or roll it into their take-home pay.

Oklahoma Prison Growth
Oklahoma Watch

At the July Oklahoma Department of Corrections board meeting, officials announced the approval of moving 310 more Oklahoma inmates to the Cimarron Correctional Facility, a private prison in Cushing.

The move was just the latest in a recent shift of state inmates to three private prisons in Oklahoma. Since July 2008, the number of Oklahoma inmates in private prisons has grown by 32 percent, from 4,264 to 5,625 in July 2013.

State Penitentiary Fades As Oklahoma Shifts Inmates To Private Prisons

Jul 29, 2013
Clifton Adcock / Oklahoma Watch

The Oklahoma State Penitentiary in McAlester, the oldest prison in the state, has seen its inmate population fall to less than half of what it was five years ago as officials move hundreds of the state’s most dangerous convicts to private prisons.

The decline has been so steep that some state lawmakers, corrections guards and others wonder if “Big Mac,” as it is called, will become home to only Death Row and the execution chamber, or if the prison will eventually be closed.

Oklahoma Watch

Oklahoma continues to imprison people at one of the highest rates in the nation, ranking fourth in a newly released report from the federal Bureau of Justice Statistics.

Oklahoma, which has seen prison populations increase steadily over the past several decades, incarcerated 648 residents per 100,000 population in 2012, according to the study released Thursday by the bureau, part of the U.S. Department of Justice. That’s up 2.5 percent, an increase from 632 in 2011.

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