State's nursing homes get high marks on recent survey

Saturday, March 24th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) _ A majority of families whose elderly relatives are living in Oklahoma nursing homes say they are generally pleased with the care.

Officials hope a recent survey, the first of its kind, will offset a year of criticism and scandal at the state Health Department.

``We hope the public hears this story digitally blasted through Dolby surround-sound, theater-style speakers,'' said Kelly Hardin, president of the Nursing Home Association of Oklahoma. ``These results aren't tainted with business perspectives from owners or political perspectives from government officials and politicians.''

Nearly 80 percent of the 4,000 Oklahomans who responded to the health department survey said they are satisfied with the care their relatives receive.

``Overall, the people of Oklahoma should feel comfortable placing their loved ones in a state long-term care facility,'' said Darren Burgess, the department's assistant deputy director for protective health services. ``The negative thoughts and characterizations of nursing facilities have really hidden the fact that there is quality care given at many, many of our nursing homes.''

In January, the department mailed 24,000 questionnaires to relatives, friends and patients in the state's 410 nursing homes.

Of the first 4,000 responses, about 32 percent report being ``very satisfied,'' about 46 percent say they're ``satisfied,'' 4 percent report they're ``very dissatisfied'' and about 10 percent say they're ``dissatisfied.''

Ron Osterhout, a state Health Board member from Altus, said research shows the worst 30 percent of facilities account for 80 percent of all deficiencies in health and safety standards.

``A small number of facilities are giving poor care while the majority of facilities are providing acceptable care,'' he said. ``The small number of poor facilities are giving the industry as a whole a bad name.''

Osterhout said Oklahoma nursing homes consistently receive high marks for involving the patient's family in their care plan, the caring attitude of staff and the patient's hygiene care.

Leslie Kelly, chairwoman of the State Council on Aging, agrees the state's nursing homes are improving, but says there is room for more progress.

``There still are plenty of bad operators in the business,'' she said.

Kelly and others say one of the biggest problems is a shortage of trained staff members.

``They're taking CNAs off the street,'' said Jo Anna Deighton of Norman, director of Oklahomans for the Improvement of Nursing Care Homes.

The health department is the focus of ongoing state and federal investigations. The state probe has led to charges against five alleged ``ghost employees'' at the agency, who are accused of being paid for doing little or no work.

Another scandal this year involved former Deputy Commissioner Brent VanMeter, who was convicted of bribery and sentenced to three years in federal prison. VanMeter accepted a bribe from nursing home operator Jim Smart of Wewoka, who also was convicted and received the same punishment.