For only the third time in six years, an Iowa nursing home administrator is publicly sanctioned

By: - March 2, 2023 8:00 am

State regulators have only sanctioned nursing home administrators three times in the past six years. (Stock photo via Canva)

For only the third time in six years, state regulators have publicly sanctioned an Iowa nursing home administrator.

The administrator, accused of theft, has been issued a warning by the Iowa Board of Nursing Home Administrators. Her license to manage nursing homes in Iowa remains unrestricted.

According to the board, Deanna Kahler of Elgin was serving as the administrator of Hillcrest Living Campus in Sumner at some unspecified point in the past when she used a facility credit card to make what the baord calls “personal purchases unrelated to the facility.” The board has not disclosed what those purchases were, where they were made, or their total value.

To resolve the disciplinary charge of misappropriating resident or facility funds, Kahler agreed to a settlement agreement with the board. That agreement calls for Kahler to pay a $500 civil penalty and accept a warning stating that future violations may result in disciplinary action. She must also complete a one-day course in professional boundaries and ethics, and complete six additional hours of instruction in either ethics or financial administration.

Kahler said Wednesday she agreed to the settlement only because the board indicated she could be charged with additional violations if she contested the misappropriation charge. She said the board also refused to share details of the alleged purchases with her.

“When I asked for more information, I was told that I would have to dispute it before they would give me more information, and if I did that, there could possibly be more charges made against me,” Kahler said. She added that while she didn’t see any details in writing, it was suggested to her that the purchases were for food.

“At that time, we would buy pizzas for the staff,” she said. “It was during COVID and during Christmastime when we’d have a lot of snacks brought in.”

She said her employer at the time never raised an issue with her spending, and all of her credit card purchases were approved by her supervisor.

Kahler is currently the administrator of the Great River Care Center in McGregor.

No board action despite state findings

Since January 2017, the Iowa Board of Nursing Home Administrators has taken public action in very few disciplinary cases. In those six years, it has publicly sanctioned only two administrators in addition to Kahler — one for giving false information to the board, and one for falsely claiming to be managing a facility where he wasn’t physically located.

In recent years, however, the state’s own inspectors, investigators and administrative law judges have cited an array of violations attributed directly to nursing home administrators — none of whom have been publicly sanctioned by the Board of Nursing Home Administrators:

Harassment and neglect: The administrator at Sigourney’s Windsor Place Senior Living Campus allegedly tried to “badger” a male resident into leaving late last year, and then had the staff dump the man’s belongings outside to forcibly evict him, according to state inspectors. The same administrator was accused of ignoring a female resident’s pleas to go to the hospital, resulting in the woman being left in a vegetative state.

Abuse: At Corydon Specialty Care last year, state inspectors and Iowa Board of Nursing investigators alleged a resident had been tied to a chair with a bedsheet by the staff. A photo was taken by one of the home’s employees, showing the woman tied to the chair. In talking to state inspectors, the administrator allegedly acknowledged the worker who took the photo was asked to delete it, adding that she didn’t keep a copy as evidence.

Falsified records: Last year, the Board of Nursing alleged that Michelle Hanson of Keokuk, while working at an unspecified health care facility as a licensed administrator, submitted falsified records to her employer indicating she has received the required annual vaccine for influenza.

Retaliation: Last year, a caregiver at the Aspire of Perry nursing home alleged she was fired by the administrator for speaking to an investigator about conditions there. An administrative law judge concluded that the fired worker had done nothing wrong and the administrator had “engaged in a pattern of unprofessional, belligerent and offensive conduct.”

Patient dumping: In 2020, the administrator at Pearl Valley Rehabilitation and Nursing discharged a male resident of the home to a hospital emergency room with no plans for his future care, according to inspectors. An administrative law judge later ruled the home had dumped the man at the hospital “during a pandemic, without any plan for his future housing and care. Pearl Valley attempted to get (the man) out of its facility by way of a hospital E.R., knowing (he) would eventually be discharged and homeless.”

Abuse and neglect: Last summer, the administrator at Dubuque Specialty Care implemented a no-smoking policy that prompted a male resident to wheel himself outside, saying he was leaving. The staff later told state inspectors the man sat outside in a wheelchair until 4 a.m. the next day, eventually calling a taxi service, falling, and being taken to a hospital for treatment. Employees told inspectors the administrator had barred them from letting the man back inside. The administrator allegedly told inspectors that technically, the man had discharged himself from the facility, “so we were not responsible.”

Death: At Centerville Specialty Care in Appanoose County last summer, state officials cited the home for failing to comply with COVD-19 mitigation requirements and contributing to a resident’s death. The administrator of the home allegedly told inspectors she was responsible for monitoring COVID-19 tests but was instead taking the staff’s word that they were being tested, adding that the job was “too overwhelming” for her.

Board should have ‘public’ representatives

By law, the nine-member Iowa Board of Nursing Home Administrators must include two members of the general public to represent the interests of citizens, plus three licensed health care professionals and four nursing home administrators.

But aside from a brief period last year, the board appears to have been operating for years with no public representatives who aren’t also licensed professionals.

Board member Michael Schueller of Epworth, a licensed mental health counselor, is listed in some state records as the board’s only public representative, while in others he’s listed as one of the board’s licensed health professionals. Kimberly Hermsen, a Catholic school administrator, was recently appointed to the board as a public representative, but she says she has been a licensed first responder for the past 30 years.

Last year, Devon Wood of Taylor County was appointed to the board as a public representative, However, she appears to have attended only one board meeting before resigning last spring. She is now a Republican state lawmaker representing House District 17.

Prior to Wood’s brief stint on the board, the last members designated as representatives of the public were Jill Barr, who is an outreach navigator at a behavioral health center in Spencer, and Kay Fisk, who was a lobbyist for Horizons: A Family Alliance before her recent retirement. Their terms on the board ended almost two years ago, in April 2021.

Wood and Schueller did not acknowledge numerous calls and messages from the Iowa Capital Dispatch over the past five weeks.

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Clark Kauffman
Clark Kauffman

Deputy Editor Clark Kauffman has worked during the past 30 years as both an investigative reporter and editorial writer at two of Iowa’s largest newspapers, the Des Moines Register and the Quad-City Times. He has won numerous state and national awards for reporting and editorial writing.