OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) -- A report released by the Board of Health Wednesday blasted the embattled state Health Department's record on
enforcing nursing home regulations, characterizing it as slow, inconsistent and contributing to substandard care at nursing homes.
"The department didn't do its job," board member Ron Osterhout said as he summarized a report prepared by a board subcommittee that recommended sweeping changes in how complaints against nursing
homes care are filed, investigated and enforced by the department.
"We're going to fix it," Jerry Regier, acting director of the state Health Department, said. "It's sad for those families who have not had the oversight that they should have had."
Specific recommendations include making the complaint process more responsive, improving the number and quality of complaint
investigations, making survey teams more consistent and ensuring that health administrators do not manipulate the survey team's findings.
The board gave the health commissioner until Sept. 14 to develop a plan to implement the recommendations.
The report was released little more than one week after former state Deputy Commissioner Brent VanMeter was arrested for allegedly
accepting a $1,000 bribe to help qualify a nursing home operator for federal funds.
VanMeter was in charge of the Health Department in the absence of the commissioner of health, Dr. J.R. Nida, who is on medical leave recovering from surgery.
Osterhout said a copy of the report was delivered to the state attorney general's office, which is investigating the case with the FBI.
The report, under way since February, found that Oklahoma's rate of complaints is half of the U.S. average and that the state's
complaint process is confusing and unresponsive to complainants.
Osterhout said the department does not respond unless the complainant requests a follow-up report. "Complainants do not know
they must request a follow-up," he said.
The report said the department's investigation of complaints "is cursory and poor." It also says the department's investigations are dramatically different than those by the
Department of Human Services, which it says is more thorough.
The report said survey teams have reported frustration with management and that managers sometimes interfere, threatening them if deficiency grades are not changed when requested.
"Some operators appear to receive favorable treatment," Osterhout said.
He also said some survey teams report that they were instructed not to invite the DHS long-term care ombudsman's office along on
nursing home surveys. Osterhout credited the ombudsman, Esther Houser, with standing "between disaster and this department."
Thirty percent of nursing facilities account for 76 percent of reported deficiencies and 10 percent of nursing homes account for 40 percent of deficiencies, the report said.
It also said enforcement actions against nursing homes are only 28 percent of the regional average. Only one-third of all
complaints are investigated, it said.