Vt. court: State too tough on nursing home chief

MONTPELIER, Vt. (AP) — The Vermont Supreme Court on Friday reversed some, but not all, findings of unprofessional conduct by the former chief of a Ludlow nursing home, and ruled the five-year license suspension she got was too severe.

Leslie Anne Whittington, who served as administrator of the Gill Odd Fellows Home in Ludlow from 2006 to 2010, was issued the suspension by a state administrative law officer, who found she had acted unprofessionally in six instances.

The court found that three of those instances didn’t warrant findings of unprofessional conduct. It noted the state Office of Professional Regulation had recommended just a one-year suspension for all six and it returned the matter to the Superior Court with instructions to send it back to the administrative law officer for a do-over.

The administrative judge had found Whittington on multiple instances went, in the Supreme Court’s words, “beyond her scope of ability and training” by interfering with other professionals in the diagnoses and treatment orders for patients.

The court reversed the finding that Whittington had improperly voiced her disagreement with a doctor’s order that a dying patient’s medication be discontinued.

Rather than being an occasion of inappropriately recommending specific medications, Associate Justice Beth Robinson wrote, “the evidence and findings show that respondent saw the withdrawal of life-sustaining care and instructed medical staff to contact the prescribing physician.

“The doctor’s feeling that respondent’s intervention was inappropriate does not itself support a finding that she committed a discipline-worthy infraction.”

But in other instances, Whittington did cross the line, the court found.

In one, she told a psychiatric nurse practitioner working at the home to give a patient who was acting in a violent and agitated manner a diagnosis of bipolar disorder so the patient would be moved to a psychiatric facility.

Here, the court affirmed the finding that Whittington “acted outside her license qualifications by purporting to provide a diagnosis and get the diagnosis recorded by an appropriately licensed professional.”

The court agreed with charges that Whittington had improperly forced a dying patient to change clothes against the patient’s wishes; and that she had required another patient to sit in a chair when the patient wanted to say in bed. The actions violated the Vermont Nursing Home Residents’ Bill of Rights, the court said.

And it found she improperly interfered with “med passes” — the regularly scheduled distributions of patient medications at the facility.

But it disagreed that a finding that Whittington created a hostile work environment for staff to such an extent that it constituted a professional violation.

“Simply put,” Robinson wrote, “being a bad manager — even a temperamental, unpredictable, harsh, and demanding one — might not necessarily constitute unprofessional conduct for the purposes of state disciplinary action against a licensed nursing home administrator.”

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