ANCHORAGE - One of the largest drug treatment centers in Anchorage has suspended its operations.
The Ernie Turner Center on the corner of Elmore and Tudor roads is now an outpatient clinic only after a recent review by the State Department of Health found the nurses at the center were conducting certain patient assessments that are outside of the scope of their license.
The center, which has been operational for 10 years, hires mostly Licensed Practical Nurses (LPNs) to treat and care for patients.
Regulations that have been in place since the 80s restrict the type of work a LPN can do, and they must be supervised.
These regulations weren’t being followed at the Ernie Turner Center, according to the Department of Health and the Alaska Board of Nursing.
"The issue to the Board of Nursing is the use of LPNs as their primary staff, because people who come are not in a real stable medical condition at the time,” said Nancy Sanders Executive Administrator for the Board of Nursing.
“We are fortunate that nothing has happened over the years that they operated in this manner,” she said.
The Cook Inlet Tribal Council (CITC), which runs the center, says it wasn't aware LPN’s weren't allowed to do the hourly tests necessary to help people with withdrawal symptoms.
Chief Operating Officer Kristin English says the center would need to hire Registered Nurses (RNs) to do the work which is much more expensive.
"It’s frustrating because I'm being asked to find a solution to run our operations in a way that I don't believe is going to increase the safety,” said Kristin English, the COO for the Cook Inlet Tribal Council.
“We have a very safe operation we've never had incidents,” said English.
English says the CITC could've hired registered nurses, but the additional expense would be up to $410,000 more each year - money that's not readily available.
It wants the Board of Nursing to agree to a special exemption so the LPN’s can work without supervision at the detox center.
The board will consider that option at a meeting next month.