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NEW public health commissioner turns focus on future, not scandal

Updated:

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) _ It's time to start focusing on health-care issues and stop worrying about scandal, said Oklahoma's new commissioner for public health.

Leslie M. Beitsch began his new job on June 4, having been tabbed as the man to lead the state Health Department out of more than a year of scandal.

In that time, former deputy commissioner Brent VanMeter was sentenced to three years in federal prison for bribery and several former agency employees have been indicted for taking paychecks for doing little or no work.

While the investigations continue, Beitsch said he'd like to focus on the future.

``I think that chapter in the department is behind us,'' he said. ``I would like that book to be closed. And I would like to move forward very much in a different chapter or maybe a new book all together.''

Beitsch said he plans to maintain scrutiny on the state' nursing homes, many of which have been targeted by allegations of poor care and neglect.

``One thing I want to make clear is the reason we regulate nursing homes is not to benefit the people who own nursing homes or who run nursing homes, but because we are there to protect the public,'' he said.

Beitsch holds a medical degree from Georgetown University School of Medicine in Washington, D.C. He also holds a law degree from Harvard Law School in Cambridge, Mass.

Before becoming commissioner, he served as assistant state health officer for the Florida Department of Health.

He said he will spend his first six months on the job listening to those inside and outside the department, but that he already has changes in mind.

He said too much money is used treating people for things which could be prevented, like tobacco use, drug and alcohol abuse, a sedentary lifestyle, poor dietary choices and sexual behaviors.

``We are spending billions, in fact trillions, to treat those problems, but we are not putting any resources into the front end of that, which is how to keep those things from happening in the first place,'' Beitsch said.

He said it is important the department establish collaborative efforts with communities to reverse poor health indicators.

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