Tuesday, November 26, 2002

Regulator: Birchtree wouldn't get license renewed, anyway

By Charles Wolfe
The Associated Press

LOUISVILLE - A health care regulator said Monday that there is "gross mismanagement" at Birchtree Healthcare, and she would not renew its license under its current managers, who include the woman suing Gov. Paul Patton for sexual harassment.

The state is trying to revoke the license of Birchtree, a nursing home at Clinton, and remove its 12 remaining residents. The debt-ridden nursing home has 104 empty beds, having never recovered from being dropped by Medicare and Medicaid during the summer.

Officials at the Cabinet for Health Services allege that conditions at Birchtree are so bad that its residents potentially are in danger - a charge denied by owner Tina Conner and her administrator, Dan Dabney.

Birchtree's license will expire Dec. 31. The cabinet's inspector general, Pamela J. Murphy, said she had not received an application for a new license and would not approve one in any event.

"It would be malfeasance of office" to do so, Ms. Murphy testified in U.S. Bankruptcy Court, where Birchtree is seeking protection from creditors. "In my judgment, we have a case of gross mismanagement."

The cabinet wants Judge David Stosberg's permission to proceed with license revocation, though the agency contends it can do so regardless. Neither Mrs. Conner nor Mr. Dabney got a chance to testify. The hearing is to resume today.

Mrs. Conner alleges that the cabinet and its inspectors hounded the nursing home into bankruptcy after she ended a two-year affair with Mr. Patton. She alleges it was Mr. Patton's way of retaliating - a charge under investigation.

Mr. Patton has acknowledged the affair but denied doing anything to aid or damage Mrs. Conner's business.

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