Board that reviews nursing home complaints dismisses most cases

Sunday, February 13th 2005, 2:13 pm
By: News On 6

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) _ A state board that regulates nursing home administrators dismissed 83 percent of its cases over the last three years, according to a review by the Tulsa World.

Cases dismissed by the Oklahoma State Board of Examiners for Nursing Home Administrators included incidents in which nursing home residents died, suffered burns or other serious injuries or were victims of abuse or neglect.

``It's kind of remarkable that high of a percentage were dismissed,'' said Esther Houser, the Department of Human Services' ombudsman for long-term care.

The 15-member board is charged with licensing, disciplining and regulating nursing home administrators in Oklahoma. Six members are nursing home owners or licensed administrators; five members represent care for the elderly; two represent the Department of Human Services and the state Health Department, and two members represent the general public.

Board President Stephen Dudley, a medical technician, said he was not disturbed that the board dismissed eight out of 10 complaints.

``The majority of things aren't usually a direct resident or patient care problem per se by the administrator,'' he said.

The Tulsa World analyzed the board by reviewing minutes from meetings between 2002 and 2004, complaint files and state Health Department records. During that time, the board considered about 235 cases against administrators and dismissed 195.

The board revoked the licenses of seven administrators and took a variety of lesser disciplinary actions against the rest.

Of the seven license revocations during the past three years, three occurred after administrators were convicted of crimes.

Russ Wilsie, a board member who manages nursing homes, said the board considers what administrators have done to correct problems.

``We just take each one case by case and look at the circumstances,'' he said. ``Oftentimes there will be a survey take place, a referral will happen and corrective action is taken.''

The review also found that one member of the board voted to dismiss a case against his own employee.

The board member, Tom Coble, is also the president of the Oklahoma Association for Health Care Providers, an industry group for nursing homes and other long-term care centers.

Coble is also one of four nursing home owners on a subcommittee of the board that meets in private to recommend how the board should handle cases. The World's review showed the full board voted to uphold the subcommittee's recommendation every time.

Coble initially said he abstained from voting on the case. When told that the meeting's minutes showed that he voted, Coble said, ``I wasn't aware of that, but I guess if that's what the minutes reflect, that's what I did.''

State law prohibits members of state boards from voting on matters in which they have a financial interest or stand to benefit. The state Ethics Commission can levy civil penalties for such violations.