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.


E-mail or call 768-8301.

Bronson: Resignations finally brought patients help
Crowley: Picnic energizes party
Bake sale helps hurricane victims
Crowley: Around Northern Kentucky

Museum to get world's attention
1,500 on guest list for center's soiree
DNA registry offers tool for adoptees
Warehouse rubble smolders
Barrel Co. owner's Columbus firm sued
Church works to regain trust
Judge: Accepting Boehner phone tape illegal
Rare rhino needs a unique name
Local news briefs

Dig at Civil War site will include citizens
Benefit helps pay for boy's life-saving surgery
Jail guards against suicide
GOP doesn't stand for 'gay old party'
Soldiers' blood may be key to anthrax medicine
Kentucky news briefs

Schools face addition by subtraction
Slimmer, trimmer school systems await students this year
Fairfield parents letter in funding
Pressure is off on N.Ky. schools
Greater Cincinnati school levies on ballot
Students get up to 10 days for field trips

200,000 people get reacquainted at river
Dads go to bat for ballfield
Threatened barn owls near a record for chicks, nests

Faith Hunter devoted life to ministry
Simon Kinsella was writing his first book
Frank Gulley, 78, was church elder