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House speaker going ahead with nursing home legislation

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) -- An investigation into the state Health Department's regulation of nursing homes won't affect a bill that would allow nursing homes to raise their rates, Oklahoma House Speaker Loyd Benson says.

The plan announced by Benson last month would let nursing homes raise their daily rates by $4 per patient. The increases would be matched with federal Medicaid money to be used for staff and pay increases.

The plan would generate an estimated $133.5 million.

"It doesn't change the fact we need to increase staffing and pay," Benson said of the investigation.

Brent Van Meter, deputy commissioner of the state Health Department, was charged Wednesday in federal court with one count of bribery. Attorney General Drew Edmondson said the federal-state probe is "in no way complete" and more arrests are expected.

Gov. Frank Keating said the plan to help nursing homes should be kept separate from the investigation.

"To the extent that we can provide the funding necessary to assure that our parents and grandparents are well cared for, we need to do so," the governor said.

At present, each nursing home staff member in Oklahoma has an average of 2.3 patients. That would be reduced to one staff member per 1.7 patients under the plan.

Denver McCormick, past president of the Oklahoma Nursing Home Association, said he hopes the investigation won't affect the Benson proposal.

"We hope it has little to no effect," he said. "If all this stuff sidetracked the program, it would be tragic. This (Benson program) has nothing to do with the Armageddon at the health department."
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