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FOR RELEASE: May 15, 2002
CONTACT: Dick Gunn
405/271-5601

Nursing Home Care Act Will Improve Patient Care

State health officials say new legislation sponsored by two Lawton legislators will be a significant tool in protecting nursing home patients from harm caused by a nursing home’s poor finances.

House Bill 2604, signed by Gov. Keating last week, gives the Oklahoma State Department of Health (OSDH) the power to intervene when a nursing home files for bankruptcy, writes bad checks, or shows other signs of financial trouble that threaten patient health, safety or welfare.

“We will soon be able to order corrective steps and intervene before patients go without needed care,” said State Health Commissioner Dr. Leslie Beitsch.

Rep. Ron Kirby and Sen. Jim Maddox, both of Lawton, authored the bill. The measure is intended to prevent a recurrence of financial problems that affected a string of nursing homes in southwest Oklahoma.

Under the new law, which takes effect Nov. 1, 2002, the OSDH will be able to appoint a monitor or manager to supervise a financially troubled home. If the home is unwilling or unable to cooperate with a manager, the Department can ask a district court judge to appoint a receiver to seize control of the home.

The OSDH can also suspend or revoke the license of an operator who does not have the financial resources needed to deliver adequate care.

The new legislation replaces law that allows the OSDH to look at a nursing home operator's financial records only before the operator's first license is issued. When a home is licensed under current law, the OSDH can take action only after patients are harmed or placed in immediate jeopardy.

Nursing homes in Temple and Tuttle and two homes in Lawton have been involved in bankruptcy proceedings since 1999. A receiver operates the four homes by order of the United States Bankruptcy Court, Western District of Missouri. Another Lawton home and one in Grandfield associated with the same bankruptcy are now closed.

"One of my first experiences as the new Commissioner of Health in 2001 was to visit Lawton for a public meeting on nursing homes sponsored by Rep. Kirby and Sen. Maddox, " Beitsch said.

"We heard that employees, food suppliers, and medical equipment vendors were not being paid. One facility's checks bounced so many times that banks in Lawton stopped honoring them. We heard that employees were using their own money to make sure that the residents had food," he continued.

"The employees were caught in the middle. As long as the nurses, aides and other staff showed up for work and took care of patients, then the homes were not in violation of nursing home laws. The license law required each home to have staff, but it did not say anything about paying them," Beitsch acknowledged.

"It was just not very satisfying to tell those employees and the families of residents in Lawton that the Health Department could do nothing under the old law. It was abundantly clear that the law needed to be changed, and we are pleased that Rep. Kirby and Sen. Maddox extended their leadership to do so," Beitsch said.

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