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TMCNet:  Audit shows Oklahoma Department of Veterans Affairs not up to standards

[April 18, 2013]

Audit shows Oklahoma Department of Veterans Affairs not up to standards

Apr 18, 2013 (Tulsa World - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) -- A performance audit of the Oklahoma Department of Veterans Affairs released Wednesday found inconsistent training and substandard pay leading to a bad work environment at the state's seven veterans centers.

"It is apparent that a high quality of care is evident in selected aspects of ODVA's operations, but many ODVA practices fall short of the standard of quality that its constituents deserve and to which they are entitled," according to the report.

Gov. Mary Fallin ordered the audit after the scalding death of a resident of the Claremore Veterans Center and numerous other allegations of abuse and neglect.

The audit found that some administrators disregarded staff input and the decentralized structure of the centers caused inconsistent policy implementation.

It said the War Veterans Commission has made some positive changes, such as hiring a full-time deputy director, but needs to do more.

"These issues could be either effectively managed or altogether avoided with appropriate oversight by ODVA's governing board ... but commissioners neither appear fully aware of their own governance responsibilities nor conscious of their own deficiencies," it reads.

The ODVA issued a statement saying the organization will follow the recommendations in the report and has already implemented some of the changes.

It notes that since the audit was performed between July 2011 and June 2012 eight members of the veterans commission were replaced and the ODVA hired a new executive director.

"The Oklahoma Department of Veterans Affairs will work diligently to implement the recommendation contained in the audit report, working closely with the members of the War Veterans Commission," according to the statement.

The audit recommends ongoing training for members of the commission and noted that some of them were unsure about their authority.

War Veterans Commission Chairman Richard Putnam said orientation and other training procedures are needed but he doesn't think commissioners needed to be trained in how to run a nursing home.

"We hire professional staff to get in there and run those homes," he said. "I don't think we need to spend state money to train us in the care of veterans in the homes when we have professional staff we spend money to maintain training to do that." The inspection focused on the Ardmore, Claremore and Norman veterans centers but all seven were visited.

The audit also recommends that the commission broaden its membership criteria. Currently, members are selected from three veterans organizations, which represent less than 15 percent of Oklahoma's veterans, according to the report.

When an investigation is needed inside the centers, three center employees are chosen to run it. They may not operate independently and are not trained for the investigation, according to the audit.

Some of the investigations are not reported to the Oklahoma Department of Human Services, the state board of nursing and the nurse aide registry as is required, according to the audit.

It recommends that a central investigative unit be established with trained personnel who are less likely to know the people working at the centers. Officials with the ODVA write that they are beginning to develop such a unit.

Commissioners are encouraged to look at more detailed reports of annual inspections from the U.S. Department of Veteran's Affairs and to consider allowing more oversight, such as with inspections by the state health department.

In a statement, Fallin called for the state legislature to send her a bill that would direct the health department to perform investigations at the centers, as was the case until about 10 years ago.

"In light of the deep-rooted problems at the ODVA, I am asking lawmakers to work with me to restore accountability and oversight to this agency," she said.

The report found the centers had inconsistent and inefficient training policies, a lack of communication between management and staff, as well as a lack of equipment and supplies.

Some of the deficiencies contribute to the centers' high turnover rate, according to the audit.

Shannon Muchmore 918-581-8378 shannon.muchmore@tulsaworld.com ___ (c)2013 Tulsa World (Tulsa, Okla.) Visit Tulsa World (Tulsa, Okla.) at www.tulsaworld.com Distributed by MCT Information Services

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