Families describe alleged neglect at Oklahoma VA center
Tulsa World, Okla.
OKLAHOMA CITY - A Nowata woman shared a tragic story of her father's recent death Tuesday with a legislative panel looking into allegations of inadequate care at the state's seven veterans' centers.
Susan Early said her father died of sepsis April 11 following a urinary tract infection that went untreated at the Claremore Veterans Center.
Jack E. Young, 91, was in the U.S. Navy during World War II. He enlisted when Japan bombed Pearl Harbor.
He watched the Claremore Veterans' Center being built and told his family that was where he wanted to be when he was older, she told the Senate panel that was conducting its final meeting during an interim study on veterans' care.
Early detailed her perception of the lack of care and inadequate treatment he received as a resident.
"I have seen my father wear the same dirty clothes for four days straight," she said in a written statement.
During one visit, she found her father so overly medicated that he was unresponsive, she said.
In another incident, her father, who had osteoporosis, was found on the bathroom floor and put back in bed, she said. It was later determined he had a broken hip, Early said.
In April, she got a call from the facility saying her father had pneumonia and was taken to the hospital, she said.
"Not long after we arrived I was told by the Emergency Room doctor and later confirmed by the doctor in the hospital that he did not have pneumonia, but his entire system was sepsis," she wrote. Sepsis is also known as blood poisoning.
"He had a massive, raging infection that the VA never treated or acknowledged," Early said in her statement. "The nurses in the Emergency Room replaced his catheter bag. It had been there so long that it had turned brown and was nasty because the urine had turned color and crystallized."
Early said she held his hand while he died.
The place he chose to call home ended up killing him from pure neglect, she said.
John McReynolds, Oklahoma Department of Veterans Affairs interim director, said he had to assume Early's story was correct. He began his job on Aug. 20, he said, adding that he had nothing to refute her story.
"I wish that wasn't the case," McReynolds said.
Jay Minter, 85, died in May of complications from thermal injuries after being scalded in a whirlpool bath at the Claremore Veterans Center. His widow, Frances Minter, settled a claim with the state for $175,000, the maximum allowed.
An investigation into his death found caretaker abuse and neglect.
Esther Houser, the state's long-term care ombudsman, said patients in the centers were negatively affected when legislation in 2003 removed the centers from unannounced inspections by the Oklahoma State Department of Health under the Oklahoma Nursing Home Care Act.
The legislation was in response to a dispute over remodeling at one of the centers, she said.
"I don't know about you, but I don't think an announced inspection is an inspection," Houser said.
She said some other protections that veterans living in the centers lost when the law was changed included: unannounced complaint investigations; appeal rights when evicted; protection from retaliation for complaints; and direct-care staffing requirements.
The facilities are inspected by a contractor of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.
Reinstating the state inspections would cost at least $150,000, said Mark Newman, Oklahoma State Department of Health director of state and federal policy.
Barbara Hoberock 405-528-2465