It was standing room only at Norman’s Public Library recently as the Oklahoma Public Employees Association (OPEA) stood in unity with workers from the Norman Veterans Center (NVC).
OPEA is at the forefront of a battle in which NVC faces graphic charges of abuse and neglect.
“If some of these things happened on my unit,” said NVC resident Jim Ellis responding to abuse allegations, “my RN would throw them over the balcony. The aides in my unit work their butts off. And these girls can make more money working for 7-11,” Ellis said.
More than 200 people showed up for the town hall-type meeting, most of them glowing with pride over services at the Center. OPEA organizers, together with state representatives Wallace Collins and Al Lindley, chaired the meeting.
“For the most part, I would say the meeting was 90 percent positive,” said Trish Frazier, OPEA Policy and Agency Relations Director. “It gave employees a chance to voice their opinions on how things could be improved at the center, and also gave patients and families an opportunity to share their thoughts.”
And share their thoughts, they did. Most participants agreed short staffing was one of the major concerns, but employees said in unison that patients do not suffer because of it.
“We do not mistreat or abuse our veterans,” said David Roberts, a retired Army staff sergeant, who is also a 15-year NVC employee. “If there’s anyone who thinks otherwise then come on over and see for yourself. We don’t do everything right, we make mistakes, but we try damn hard.”
At issue are allegations levied against the center claiming patient care is inadequate.
A retired health department employee who specializes in investigations of long-term care facilities has been hired to look into these claims.
Under the glare of television cameras, many employees stepped to the podium to speak, saying they are proud of the work they do. But like so many agencies, a short staff, under-funding and low pay make the workload almost unbearable.
“Our workers who take care of veterans do not take care of veterans because of the pay,” said OPEA Executive Director Sterling Zearley. “The care our members provide is overseen by numerous outside agencies, veterans groups, professional licensing entities and families of our veterans. Our members believe the veterans at NVC receive incredible care from compassionate state employees and we welcome any additional investigation necessary to assure the public of our commitment,” Zearley said.
“We firmly believe the decision about the quality of care veterans receive should not be in the hands of the legislature, many whom have never served nor taken the time to visit and acquaint themselves with this agency,” Zearley said. “These decisions are best made by the dedicated staff at our state’s veteran’s centers who do this work everyday with very limited resources; by a staff that loves these men and women and honor the sacrifices they made.
“We at OPEA are asking the Governor to appoint a special panel made up of organizations who deal specifically with veteran’s issues. We want them to look at not only the Norman Center but also the issues facing the entire agency and make recommendations to the Governor regarding improving the funding for this agency,” Zearley added.
Look for continuing coverage of NVC on the OPEA website at www.OPEA.org as well as future “Updates” and in The Advocate.