With two study meetings concluded, a clearer picture is beginning to form on issues within the Oklahoma Department of Veterans Affairs. During the most recent meeting on Sept. 27, veteran center administrators appeared before the Senate Committee on Veteran and Military Affairs and spoke about challenges facing the centers. Sen. Frank Simpson (R-Ardmore) said among the issues that stand out are finding stable, qualified personnel to serve the veterans and better reporting mechanics on complaints. Simpson also said he is concerned about the level of security at the centers.
The main concern raised by administrators was the difficulty in finding employees, as well as keeping them. All seven centers offer a base wage of $11 per hour for certified nursing aides, which makes it difficult to compete with private nursing homes.
Stacie Page, interim director of the Sulphur facility, said that it struggles to get applicants even though the base wage is higher than those of other nursing homes.
Simpson said there are two other meetings scheduled, the next to take place Tuesday. That meeting will focus on patient abuse at the veterans centers. While many of the problems are coming to light, he also noted there are also positives, which are also surfacing.
"I know in my heart there are more good things going on than bad things," he said. "Are there problems? Yes."
Simpson said transparency is a key issue for the ODVA. He noted the state health department lists its problems and the ODVA needs to do the same. Simpson also said headway is being made, citing the Claremore center as a case study on problems within the system. Among the issues that have been uncovered at Claremore are nepotism, abuse, lack of oversight and failure to report abuse.
"Everything we find of a serious nature seems to come back to Claremore," Simpson said. "Our game plan could be very simple if we use Claremore as the example we could use to fix every problem in the system."
Adding to Claremore's issues is a criminal investigation into the death of a veteran resident.
Simpson said the ODVA is also conducting an internal investigation. Heading up the ODVA is interim director John McReynolds.
"He is taking an open-minded active approach," Simpson said. "He wants to fix the problems."