The ethical behavior of the Nursing Home Committee has been called into question concerning a recent motion approving bylaw changes, as well as alleged misconduct of specific board members.
The Overton County Ethics Committee met last Friday evening and voted to “investigate allegations and possible infractions of current bylaws and take it up with appropriate committees,” as read by Chairman Gregg Nivens.
As previously reported in the Enterprise, the nursing home board approved a motion on Feb. 21 to take before the Overton County Commission a request to pass bylaw recommendations drafted by County Attorney Daryl Colson, including to hire a liaison between the board and Administrator Jennifer Bouldin. A liaison would report to board members. Members who voted to pass the motion were Darwin Clark, Donna Savage and Billie Phipps at a previous nursing home board meeting, and Randall Boswell and Frank Martin voted against it. Boswell chairs the nursing home board and also serves as an ethics committee member.
Several members of the budget committee and the county executive discussed that the approval of a liaison should have first gone before the Overton County Budget Committee.
“It was voted on, flat out, that this is to go to the court without any further consideration,” Cyrus said. “That’s the way it was phrased that night. You can’t supercede the process. This is a legislative body. Three, or five, people do not dominate an action that is supposed to be brought before a legislative body…and what authority did they have in the bylaws?”
Three members are also alleged to have behaved unethically in actions leading up to the bylaw changes voting, including meeting with the county attorney without consultation of the board chairman first.
Boswell detailed his account of liaison discussion during a work session concerning the issue.
“I opened the meeting at 5 o’clock (on Feb. 21), and asked for discussion and Darwin says, ‘I make a motion that we send it to the next meeting to be sent to the full court’ without any further discussion, and he got a second.”
Cyrus, who was at the same work session, supported Boswell’s account.
Boswell said the work session held with Colson prior to the Feb. 21 meeting lasted approximately 10 minutes. “There was no descriptions, no money,” he said.
He said the session was held to discuss liaison duties, pay and what would be recommended to the county commission, none of which were clarified before being approved.
It is also alleged that several nursing home board members, who have not been specifically named, conducted employee “interviews” late at night at the nursing home.
“I pulled this out of one of the board members up there that actually went,” Nivens said. “They’re going over there at night time, of the nursing home, 12 o’clock at night, interviewing employees, soliciting employees and feedback from them.”
Cyrus responded, “That right there is lawsuit city…If you go in and someone makes an allegation against someone…whether it’s just an allegation or the person just said it…you’re talking about a lawsuit that would close that thing down.”
At the start of the meeting, Cyrus cited an “immediate jeopardy” last year at the nursing home, which brought the facility into hot water with the state, and allegations by employees against the administrator were what led up to the current attempts to change bylaws.
“There has been an attempt (by the board) on how to fix how the operation is run,” he said.
Bouldin said there have not been any grievances filed against her in the six years she’s been employed as the administrator.
Both Cyrus and member James Clouse suggested that changes should be made to the structure of the board.
“We got five county board members on it (the nursing home board). If they changed anything, you need a healthcare professional, at least one or two,” said Clouse.
Cyrus said, “I believe, and I would ask that you all in the ethics committee look at it and just think about this, and I know it takes the whole court to make the decision to do it, but maybe there should be a restructuring of the board…I think that there needs to be a professional board sort of set up, with commissioners representation on it, and you know, you take and present say five people before the county court and allow them to make a recommendation whether it be by a personnel committee, or county executive or however you all determine to do it…and present it as an up or down vote.”
Jean Moore asked how other counties select their nursing home board members, and in response both Bouldin and nursing home Controller Charla Zalewski said that in Jefferson and Rutherford counties, the county mayor chairs, the board has one commissioner and may have people from the community.
The need to even add a liaison was questioned as well.
“Bill (Phipps) made a statement (at the last nursing home board meeting) that having an ombudsman was sort-of like having a union steward,” Cyrus said. “We don’t need a union steward in the nursing home. It just doesn’t need to be there.”
According to the discussion, bylaw changes were last made in 1986.
Jean Moore gave an account of the changes.
“The bylaws made in the ‘80s, was specifically stated… was to get the board out of any day-to-day operation of the nursing home, that it was supposed to be that the administrator was to be completely in charge. If an employee or a patient or somebody had a grievance, then they would go through the channel that had been set up to do that,” she said. “But the board did not have any say so in the hiring or firing of the employees. It used to be that people would call up the board members and want them to get them jobs. I think that the bylaws might need some updates, but the spirit is there.”
Bouldin said, “I terminate people, but I expect people to come to work, I expect people to do their job while they’re there.
“Healthcare is a 24 / 7, I’m going to continue to expect people to do their jobs. And if I’m not…get rid of me and get somebody who can do it. There’s no need to add an added expense. I think we’ve done a pretty decent job, to be quite honest, in six years. We need a board who’s supportive instead of trying to pull the weight.”
Nivens called the board dysfunctional.
“I went to a couple of meetings too,” he said. “It’s probably one of the most dysfunctional boards I’ve seen in a while, quite honestly. We got three of the board members that’s bypassing the chairman, and another board member going to see an attorney to get letters of recommendation…the three of them went out rogue to the attorney. If they’re going to bypass the whole committee process, why have a committee? Why have a chairman? In my opinion, that’s misconduct, as far as the board. In my opinion, need to change things up.”
Clouse asked how Boswell’s position on both boards would affect future proceedings between the nursing home board and the ethics committee, to which Boswell said he would refrain from voting on future matters relating to the issue.
The bylaw changes were to go before commissioners during an Overton County Commission meeting held last night. The results of the meeting can be read about in this week’s edition of the Livingston Enterprise.
The committee is to set up a meeting with nursing home board in the near future, a date that has not been set as of press time.
Ethics committee members present were Gregg Nivens, James Clouse, Randall Boswell and Jean Moore. Rick Moles was absent. Also present were County Executive Ron Cyrus, Overton County Nursing Home Administrator Jennifer Bouldin and Comptroller Charla Zalewski.
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