Health commissioner

Friday, May 12th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

TULSA, Okla. (AP) -- Oklahoma's health commissioner says he was "speechless" when informed about a state and federal investigation into the Health Department's regulation of the nursing home industry, and that he felt betrayed by the department's former deputy commissioner.

"That is exactly how I felt," Commissioner Jerry R. Nida, who is recovering from kidney surgery, told the Tulsa World.

Nida was on medical leave when Brent Van Meter, who was serving as acting commissioner of the agency, was arrested May 2 on a federal bribery charge. Van
Meter is accused of taking a $1,000 bribe from a nursing home owner who wanted department paperwork backdated so his company could receive an additional $50,000.

Van Meter was fired May 4. Six other Health Department employees are on suspension with pay.

The actions came after authorities served search warrants at six Oklahoma City-area locations, including the Department of Health and Van Meter's residence, where records were seized.

Nida said he received a call from Board of Health Chairman Dr. Jay Gregory informing him of the state and federal probe.

"I was speechless," Nida said. "I was absolutely speechless --and disappointed."

Nida has been with the Health Department since 1974 and served as director for six years. He said he would like to remain as director and health commissioner, but that he is uncertain about his fate.

"The captain is supposed to go down with the ship," he said.

Gov. Frank Keating has said he will leave the decision about Nida's future up to the nine-member Board of Health, according to Phil Bacharach, a spokesman for the governor.

"If I don't have the support, then that is the way it works," Nida said Thursday from his home. "That is just like a football game. If you have a losing season, you find a new coach."