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Health Department investigators make unannounced visits to nursing

Updated:
EDMOND, Okla. (AP) -- An Oklahoma Department of Health task force dispatched investigators Thursday to nursing homes for unannounced visits as the agency worked to reduce a backlog of complaints.

Investigators were sent to facilities in the Oklahoma City and Tulsa metropolitan areas. Officials declined to identify the facilities before the investigators were onsite, citing
confidentiality requirements, said James Joslin, the training coordinator in the Special Health Services division of the Health
Department.

Thursday marked the first day the Health Department's Integrity Task Force sent out investigators into the field. The group is
trying to whittle down a backlog of roughly 450 complaints from 201 nursing homes throughout the state, Joslin said.

Sixty-seven nurses, environmental specialists and sanitarians, or people who inspect kitchens, from the Oklahoma City and Tulsa
health departments will work to reduce the number in the next two to three weeks, Joslin said.

The complaints don't necessarily involve nursing home residents, but could be problems with kitchen areas, dietary problems and staffing, he said. The investigations differ from surveys, or inspections, that occur annually, he said.

The department provided the media a chance to see several facilities that are being investigated for a complaint, but reporters were not allowed to enter the centers or talk with residents without permission from the facilities' administrators.

Among the facilities was Grace Living Center, a nursing home and rehabilitation facility in Edmond. The Health Department did not
disclose the nature of the complaint, saying that and other issues such as who filed the complaint, were confidential.

Curtis Spencer, a spokesman for the facility, said officials would have no comment.

Reporters were not allowed into the center.

"This is just a routine, surprise inspection," Spencer said.

Joslin said people have come forward since former deputy commissioner Brent VanMeter was arrested and indicted on a charge of taking a $1,000 bribe to backdate department paperwork that would help a nursing home owner gain $50,000 in federal funds.

VanMeter was fired two days after his arrest.
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