OKLAHOMA CITY — An air surgeon and medical professor will serve as the next interim commissioner of health, Oklahoma’s governor announced Friday.
Gov. Kevin Stitt said Dr. Lance Frye, who serves as a colonel in Oklahoma Air National Guard, will serve as interim commissioner of Oklahoma State Department of Health effective immediately.
“I have full faith in his ability to continue upon the momentum we have seen (the Health Department) undergo over the past seven months and lead this critical agency as we respond to the worst pandemic in a century,” Stitt said.
Frye, 57, replaces Gary Cox, after he was forced out by the state Senate earlier this month when the legislative body refused to confirm him. Questions about meeting strict qualifications for the state job torpedoed Cox’s nomination. Cox is expected to serve in an advisory role for a brief period before leaving state government.
Stitt said Frye’s medical background meets the statutory criteria. He will ask senators to appoint Frye permanently to the post next February.
Frye, a Tulsa resident, also currently serves as the interim director chair and residency program director and professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Oklahoma State University Center for Health Sciences as well as the National Guard’s senior medical officer.
He will remain in the National Guard and still was evaluating Friday whether he’ll remain in his post with OSU.
Oklahoma has struggled to find people to lead the state’s top public health agency. Frye will be the agency’s third leader in two years.
“I look at it as an opportunity to serve,” he said. “I look at it as an opportunity to make a difference in this state. I can’t think of anything more rewarding than this.”
Jerome Loughridge, the state’s secretary of health and mental health, said Frye had the organizational acumen and command presence to develop a leading model for COVID-19 hospital surge preparedness and planning in rural states.
The plan is being studied as a model for future responses in other states, he said.
“That’s a testament to his organizational capabilities,” Loughridge said.
When the state recently saw a COVID-19 outbreak in Texas County, Frye wasn’t content to watch afar from the command center. He went there personally to help, Loughridge said.
“Having served directly alongside Col. Frye for the last two months of our coordinated COVID-19 response, I can definitively say he evinces all of the character, experience and get-it-done attitude that we need to lead our Department of Health,” Loughridge said. “I have no doubt he will bring his experience as a servant-leader to bear in vital ways as he provides guidance to one of our state’s most important agencies and works toward the objective of helping all Oklahomans flourish.”