Sunday, August 22, 2004

Resignations finally brought patients help


Click here to e-mail Peter Bronson
Someone should pin medals on the nurses who take care of profoundly retarded and mentally ill residents at the Southwest Ohio Developmental Center in Batavia.

But when the center's most experienced nurses quit in protest, state officials in charge hardly listened.

In May 2003, 12 of 19 nurses bailed out, saying their boss was a tyrant who verbally abused them. They complained to state Mental Retardation and Developmental Disabilities (MR/DD) officials in writing. "I have been cursed, humiliated and made to look like a fool in front of my co-workers,'' one nurse wrote. "In my opinion, the nurses are still too scared to report errors because they fear'' Superintendent Nancy McAvoy.

Six nurses said patients were in jeopardy and the staff would decline. But Mental Retardation and Developmental Disabilities officials responded with a wrist-slap reprimand of McAvoy for "inadvertently creating an unproductive work environment.''

Now, more employee protests and state investigations have confirmed medication errors, improper reporting of nine sexual assaults of patients by patients, poor treatment and thin, untrained staffing.

Medicaid funding, nearly suspended by the Ohio Department of Health, has been restored. But McAvoy has been reassigned to Columbus, along with Program Director Fred Dooley, who some employees said blew the whistle on her. McAvoy and Dooley have declined to comment.

An Aug. 12 report from a two-week investigation done by the Ohio Department of Mental Retardation and Developmental Disabilities vindicated the nurses who quit a year ago. "Superintendent McAvoy has created a working environment that is intimidating to individuals, by criticizing and berating employees in front of their peers in meetings,'' the report said. "Staff are fearful to express opinions to the superintendent. A number of staff reported instances in which they witnessed the superintendent yell at staff, publicly humiliate staff, call names and become angry.''

Staffers complained last year that McAvoy, a social worker, was unqualified and got the job from Mental Retardation and Developmental Disabilities Director Ken Ritchey, with whom she had worked in Columbus.

When McAvoy was ordered to get team training, she brought in a consultant who interviewed workers - then showed their comments to McAvoy. The staffers said they felt betrayed.

McAvoy's immediate Mental Retardation and Developmental Disabilities supervisor, Deb Buccilla, said in July, "I have not received any complaints from staff about any morale issues.'' But the morale meltdown was easy to find.

In a May survey by the Southwest Ohio Developmental Center in Batavia, less than 15 percent of the staff said there was adequate communication, and only 36 percent had "confidence in leadership.''

In 2003, nurses said untrained workers were caring for patients. The report last week said, "Agency nurses are used to cover more than half the nursing shifts at the facility,'' and "no steps have been taken to provide thorough orientation.'' Training consisted of showing them a manual.

Most of the 112 residents are too retarded or mentally ill to speak for themselves. Yet for more than a year, the Mental Retardation and Developmental Disabilities group allowed McAvoy to run the center into the ground, until the Ohio Department of Health found patients were in jeopardy. Then, they finally replaced her.

"I'm surprised it happened at all,'' said Connie Ostrander, who quit in 2003. "The residents I loved and cared about have paid a price,'' she said. And so did her own career. "But I'm glad I did it and I would do it again.''

The Mental Retardation and Developmental Disabilities organization owes nurses like her a medal - and a job.

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E-mail pbronson@enquirer.com or call 768-8301.




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