The Senate Appropriations Committee has given unanimous approval to a bill restoring Oklahoma State Department of Health inspections at state-run veterans’ centers. Sen. Frank Simpson is principal author of Senate Bill 629, which was approved Wednesday on a vote of 18-0.
Simpson, R-Springer, is Chairman of the Senate Veterans and Military Affairs Committee. He conducted an interim study investigating widespread abuse at many of the state’s centers, including reports of physical and verbal abuse, neglect, sexual assaults, and deaths as a result of inadequate care or neglect. Simpson said there was a clear connection between the lack of external inspections and the conditions at veterans’ centers.
“This is the most important piece of legislation this session to address the shocking problems we’ve documented in many of our state veterans’ centers,” Simpson said. “The Legislature voted in 2003 to remove these centers from the Nursing Home Care Act, with supporters arguing the health department inspections were an unnecessary duplication because the centers were already subject to federal inspections. What we uncovered shows us those additional state inspections and outside accountability were critical to the health and well-being of our veterans. Restoring this oversight is the linchpin of our efforts to reform our veterans’ centers.”
Simpson, a veteran of the Navy, said the federal Veterans Administration inspections were contracted out to a private entity with no accountability to the state, and were administrative only. Furthermore, they were scheduled during regular business hours, meaning the centers knew when the inspections would occur. By contrast state health department inspections can occur at any time, day or night, even on weekends, giving the opportunity for a more accurate assessment of actual conditions.
“Restoring this oversight is the most important reform we can approve this session to increase accountability and correct the serious problems uncovered this past year,” Simpson said. “I am grateful for the committee’s support, and I look forward to bringing this measure to the full Senate.”