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FOR RELEASE: May 2, 2001
CONTACT: Dick Gunn
405/271-5601

May 2, 2001 – One Year After

One year after the Oklahoma State Department of Health became embroiled in accusations of bribery, personnel irregularities and agency mismanagement, agency employees are working together to begin rebuilding the public trust and restoring integrity and accountability to the agency. Uppermost in priority have been improvements in the oversight of long-term care facilities in the state.

“We have worked aggressively the past year to correct the problems of the past so that nursing home residents receive appropriate care in a protected environment,” said Jerry Regier, Acting Director for the Oklahoma State Department of Health and Secretary of Health and Human Services. “We are committed to reforms in these facilities, including better monitoring, better communication, better training, and better pay.”

Regier was asked by Gov. Keating to step in as the crisis unfolded. Later, the State Board of Health asked him to be the agency's Acting Director following the resignation of former State Health Commissioner Dr. Jerry Nida and during the search for a new Commissioner of Health.

“It has been a tumultuous year but it has also been a productive one,” Regier said. “We continue daily to improve our processes to assure the health and safety of nursing home residents, and to make certain we deliver the other public health services the citizens of this state expect and deserve.”

Regier noted these agency improvements made during the past year:

Changes in Long-term Care Services

  • The Long-term Care Services area was reorganized and infused with new leadership to improve oversight of the nursing home industry.
  • The nursing home inspection schedule was scrambled so that schedule dates for inspections were truly unknown to nursing home staff.
  • An “Integrity Task Force” was mobilized with extra public health nurses and nursing home investigators to reduce the backlog of nursing home complaints. This was a good news/bad news item: the backlog continues because the public now knows their complaints will be investigated and handled, thus the volume of complaints has increased.
    Since May 2, 2000, the agency has issued more than $800,000 in civil monetary penalties to nursing home facilities that failed to meet health and safety standards. Processes to improve collection of these fines are ongoing with the Oklahoma Health Care Authority.
  • The number of serious deficiencies in nursing homes reported by survey teams has increased from 8 percent prior to May 2, 2000, to almost 32 percent now, exceeding the national average of 25 percent.
  • Input from the nursing home industry has been actively sought, with scheduled monthly meetings between agency staff and nursing home representatives in place.

Overall Agency Improvements

  • Personnel irregularities and agency mismanagement, which allowed agency employees to remain on the payroll without performing the duties they were hired for, were addressed.
    Major changes to the agency's organizational structure were instituted to better address providing quality public health services.
  • The agency's numerous financial and personnel areas were consolidated to improve checks and balances.
  • The agency budget request was linked to the agency's public health mission and objectives through a strategic planning process.
  • The agency hosted the first tri-board meeting of members of the State Board of Health, as well as board members of the Oklahoma City-County Health Department and Tulsa City-County Health Department.
  • Onsite visits were conducted at local county health departments to gain firsthand input from front-line staff.
  • An internal agency Intranet process called STAR (Standards for Trust and Responsibility) was developed to provide agency employees with timely information on organizational changes and provide a forum for feedback from staff.

“We have instituted an agency-wide quality improvement process that has contributed to restoring integrity and efficiency at the Oklahoma State Department of Health,” Regier said. “I'm pleased with how far we've come, and I am very appreciative of the strong support from Department staff during this year of transition and change.”

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