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FOR RELEASE: July 12, 2001
CONTACT: Dick Gunn
405/271-5601

Two Public Health Nurses Placed on Suspension with Pay

State Health Commissioner Dr. Leslie Beitsch announced today that he has placed two public health nurses on suspension with pay during an ongoing internal investigation for possible failure to report suspected child abuse.

The nurses were placed on suspension with pay following an inquiry into the injuries to a child who is a client in the Children First program. A preliminary case review indicates these nurses may have failed to follow established protocols for reporting suspected child abuse.

“It is a tragedy when any child suffers a preventable injury,” Beitsch said. “We regret that a child incurred injuries that potentially could have been identified and reported by these nurses. The intent of the Children First program is to provide services and work with families to prevent such situations. Even so, our Children First nurses are trained to identify signs of suspected child abuse and to report their observations to the Department of Human Services as required by law.”

Beitsch has ordered an immediate statewide review and audit of Children First cases to make certain procedural safeguards currently in place are effective and to find any processes that need to be strengthened. “The department will do all in its power to assure the health and safety of those served through the Children First program and other prevention programs within the department,” he said.

Beitsch said the agency will also request that the State Board of Nursing review this case.

Children First is a family resource and support program targeting first-time mothers. Registered nurses from local county health departments begin visiting clients before their 28th week of pregnancy and continue home visitation through the child's second birthday. These home visitations are designed to assure the health and well being of both mother and child. The program began in Oklahoma in 1997 as a pilot project in four Oklahoma counties and expanded statewide in 1998. During FY 2001, the Children First Program made 82,944 home visits to more than 7,819 Oklahoma families.

Beitsch said Children First nurses receive intensive training in identification of suspected child abuse. “ We want to determine the extent to which oversight procedures were effective or deficient in this instance. I have ordered the statewide review to assure reporting weaknesses are not apparent elsewhere,” Beitsch said.

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