Creating solutions to keep Veterans Centers fully staffed

The War Veterans Commission discussed staffing concerns at its most recent meeting in December. The seven Oklahoma veteran’s centers operated by the Oklahoma Department of Veterans Affairs care for our state’s military heroes, who have served our nation since the World War II era. While all disabled and elderly citizens should receive good quality care, our heroes should receive the best possible care in the state’s veteran’s centers.

With 30 to 40 percent turnover in nursing staff and difficulty recruiting new employees, veteran’s centers face challenges in providing Oklahoma’s veterans with the quality of care they deserve. OPEA’s goal for Oklahoma’s veteran’s centers is a workforce of dedicated, career employees. However, the agency is faced with stiff competition to recruit and retain health care employees.

Some health care organizations have faced the nursing shortage challenge by “growing their own” nursing workforce. OPEA believes ODVA and the state of Oklahoma should invest in the workforce by providing highly performing employees with educational opportunities so they can advance in the agency and dedicate their careers to the important citizens who receive state services.

Policy Director Trish Frazier outlined a new pilot program that would help veteran center health care workers in assisting their education. The program would pay for workers who pass certain performance standards to become licensed nurses. It would address the problem of state health care workers leaving for higher-paying jobs in the private sector.

“We’ve watched all of these other health organizations steal our nurses, steal our good PCAs because they have programs basically to grow nurses within their organizations,” Frazier said. “We’re talking about hospitals who pick out their high-performing PCAs and they help them go to school to become nurses. And, we really want people who want to spend their careers serving veterans, and the way to do that is to give our high performing-workers a future.”

OPEA will be meeting with members of the commission and Sen. Frank Simpson, R-Ardmore, on January 3 to discuss the details of the plan, which should include determining the number of working years employees who take advantage of the program would have to give back to the VA. Simpson, the new chair of the Senate Veterans and Military Affairs Committee said legislation may need to be passed in the upcoming session to officially establish the program. Simpson will carry this measure in the Senate and Rep. Pat Ownbey will be the co-author in the House.

OPEA Proposal
Veterans Patient Care Assistants who pass performance standards would be given the opportunity obtain education and skills, tuition free, to become licensed nurses.

A PCA who becomes a licensed practical nurse (LPN) in this program would be required to serve the agency for three years or reimburse the state for the prorated cost of the training.
A PCA who becomes a registered nurse (RN) in this program would be required to serve the agency for five years or reimburse the state for the prorated cost of the training.
The program could be extended to radiology, laboratory, advanced nursing, nursing home administrator, or any other position the agency is experiencing challenges in recruitment and retention of qualified employees.

In the fall, OPEA told the commission that pay increases could be provided within the classified service through market adjustments. OPEA would be glad to assist the agency in the process of obtaining market adjustments for recruitment and retention. ODVA and other agencies that hire patient care assistants and other direct care jobs could benefit from a program that helps high performing employees advance to nursing positions. Employees should be able to envision a path that makes them want to have a career with the agency.

Talihina Superintendent Roy Griffith later told OPEA the agency is working on market adjustments for nursing staff within the classified service.

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