The City Sentinel Staff Report
Oklahoma City – Sen. Paul Rosino, Senate chair of the Legislative Veterans Caucus, said an independent investigation into social media posts alleging abuse and neglect at the Lawton Veterans Center – completed by the Oklahoma Department of Human Services (OKDHS) Advocate General — showed no substantiated findings.
“I felt it was critical for the veterans center and the Department of Veterans Affairs that the investigation be independently conducted. I requested the investigation be conducted by the Oklahoma Department of Human Services Advocate General,” said Rosino, R-Oklahoma City. “The safety and wellbeing of our veterans is my top priority.”
In his statement — released early this month soon after the report was submitted — Rosino also stated that while long-term care facilities as a whole have been stressed with workforce issues prior to COVID-19, those issues have been exacerbated by the pandemic.
The Oklahoman comments
An editorial in The Oklahoman this month noted investigators did not substantiate the assertions of poor care of veterans living in the centers, lack of hygiene and other issues.
However, the editorial staff at the state’s largest newspaper expressed concern that the full report was not made public.
“Families are missing quality interactions that are vital to the mental and physical health of seniors in these facilities,” Rosino commented in a press release sent to The City Sentinel and other news organizations. “I am grateful to the Advocate General and his team for digging into these allegations thoroughly and in a timely manner to give us a clear picture regarding the operations of the Lawton center.”
State Officials comment
“This was a large-scale investigation into numerous allegations,” said Joe Dewey, Advocate General at OKDHS. “I am proud of the quality of work our team undertook in a few short weeks and that we were able to provide a final report for the families and residents of the Lawton Veterans Center.”
“Sen. Rosino is a strong advocate for veterans who cares about their health and welfare, especially those in Oklahoma’s veterans’ centers,” said Senate President Pro Tempore Greg Treat. “I appreciate his innovative leadership in getting state agencies to work together to facilitate an independent review of these serious complaints.”
“Because our highest priority at ODVA is caring for Oklahoma veterans, when allegations surfaced on social media or local media, we determined that a comprehensive, external investigation should be conducted,” said Joel Kintsel, Executive Director, Oklahoma Department of Veterans Affairs. “We are so grateful that the Department of Human Services answered the call and conducted this very thorough and important, external investigation.”
Genesis of Independent Investigation
An investigation of the facility was ordered by the V.A. director after reporter Nolan Clay’s story chronicling the complaints of some families, asserted care, hygiene, and other problems at the center had grown during the months-long stretch when family members of residents have not been able to visit the facility.
When the issue emerged in August, several legislators supported the state V.A. for “taking action to investigate and remedy the situation.”
Joining in a statement this summer were Sen. John Michael Montgomery, R-Lawton; Sen. Chris Kidd, R-Waurika; Rep. Trey Caldwell, R-Lawton; Rep. Toni Hasenbeck, R-Elgin; Rep. Daniel Pae, R-Lawton; and Rep. Rande Worthen, R-Lawton,
The legislators encouraged an executive order “relating to long-term care visitation to consider solutions to enable families to safely check upon the treatment of their loved ones in state facilities and other elder care facilities.”
At most state-run V.A. facilities, visitation remains on hold due to the ongoing pandemic.
The state government is preparing protocols to reopen centers for visitors. The Oklahoma Department of Veteran Affairs runs the centers in Ardmore, Claremore, Clinton, Lawton, Norman, Sallisaw, Sulphur and Talilhina.
Note: Publisher Pat McGuigan contributed to this report.