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Vt. high court: State too tough on nursing home chief

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

Leslie Anne Whittington, who was 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.

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The court found that three of those instances did not warrant findings of unprofessional conduct, and noted the state Office of Professional Regulation had recommended just a one-year suspension for all six instances. It instructed the Superior Court to send the case back to the administrative law officer for a do-over.

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

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

Associate Justice Beth Robinson wrote in Friday’s ruling, “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 at the home to give a patient 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.’’

The court also agreed that Whittington had improperly forced a terminally ill 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 stay in bed. The actions violated the Vermont Nursing Home Residents’ Bill of Rights, the court said.

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

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