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Nevada health official forced to resign in wake of audit

Updated January 19, 2018 - 5:52 pm

A top health administrator was forced to resign Friday after a state audit uncovered deplorable conditions such as human feces, expired food and filthy mattress inside homes for the mentally ill.

“It was political,” said Amy Roukie, a former administrator of the state Division of Public and Behavioral Health, about her departure. She declined to comment further.

Roukie on Wednesday was in the hot seat at a Legislative Commission’s audit subcommittee meeting, where lawmakers grilled Roukie about how her team inspected dozens of homes for severely mentally ill residents but did not sound the alarm about inhumane conditions.

The 65-page audit focused on 37 of the state’s 105 community-based living arrangement homes which house adults with mental illness. The home providers are paid $1,450 per client per month by state and federal dollars.

Auditors found disturbing conditions in the 37 homes, including excessively dirty floors, rodent infestations, mold and mildew and broken glass. Many of the homes had expired medicine and spoiled food lying around. Some had no toilet paper or hand soap for the clients.

Sources say Roukie was ousted after she suggested during the meeting that a deputy director in the department, had been “replaced” in connection with the squalid conditions at the homes. The director’s departure was apparently unrelated to the audit or the homes.

Roukie was accused of lying to lawmakers, though she told the Review-Journal that was not her intention.

“It’s very disappointing,” said Assemblywoman Maggie Carlton, who told Roukie that she lost sleep after seeing the alarming photos of the filthy conditions. “The more information we can get from staff, the better. We gave them that message loud and clear.”

Deputy Director Julie Kotchevar will take over Roukie’s responsibilities.

Richard Whitley, the director of the state Department of Health and Human Services, on Thursday launched an internal investigation to figure out how the homes for the mentally ill got so out of control, and why state officials didn’t stop it.

“We have to figure out why this happened,” said Chrystal Main, a spokeswoman for the Nevada Department of Health and Human Services. “Gov. Sandoval and the Legislature in 2017 gave us the tools to be able to go out and certify these homes and understand what was going on. There’s been a breakdown somewhere. It’s systemic. What we need to determine from this is what happened.”

Checklists obtained by the Review-Journal through a public records request show state officials were checking for mold, expired food, good lighting and clean furniture. Though they checked these homes monthly, they did not note the conditions found by the auditors.

Main said the investigators looking into the issue are not the same people who conducted the monthly checks. “We needed a different set of eyes,” she said.

Assemblyman James Oscarson, a member of the health and human services committee, said Friday he hopes the state investigation leads to meaningful change.

“Nobody should ever have to live in deplorable conditions like that, especially our most vulnerable people,” Oscarson said. “I’m supportive of whatever investigative techniques need to be used by the state to make sure those practices are discontinued immediately.”

Contact Ramona Giwargis at rgiwargis@reviewjournal.com or 702-380-4538. Follow @RamonaGiwargis on Twitter.

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