The Senate Committee on Veterans and Military Affairs held its second interim study meeting Thursday in an effort to improve services at the Oklahoma Department of Veterans Affairs. Administrators from all seven of the state’s veteran’s centers presented information before the committee. Topics discussed included staffing and pay levels, turnover rates and training as well as how inspections and investigations are conducted within the centers.
“Having input from the veteran center administrators is critical to improving services to our veterans because they are there every day and know firsthand what areas need to be addressed and improved,” said Simpson, R-Ardmore. “I want to thank the administrators for their honesty and dedication in providing top notch services.”
The committee’s main goal at Thursday’s meeting was to find out what problems the centers are facing and how to address those.
The main concern raised by all the administrators was the difficulty in finding employees as well as keeping them. The seven centers offer the same base wage of $11 per hour for certified nursing aids (CNAs). A majority of the administrators said this is not high enough to compete with surrounding private nursing homes so employees will normally only stay a month and leave after receiving their first paycheck.
Stacie Paige, the interim director of the Sulphur facility, pointed out that even at their facility where the hourly wage is higher than those at other nursing homes in the community, they still struggle to get applicants. She said they currently have the funds to fill nine vacancies but cannot find applicants for those positions.
The administrators explained that it is normally recent high school graduates who apply for these lower level positions. The centers struggle to keep these employees because they are more concerned about their pay rather than the health insurance, retirement and other benefits they will receive once their initial probationary period is over.
Administrators also noted that many times these employees are terminated fairly quickly because they fail drug tests or simply do not show up for work.
Those administrators attending the meeting included Regeana McCracken, Ardmore; Glenda Davenport, Claremore; Katherine Kreizenbeck, Clinton; Terry Wilkerson, Lawton; Assistant Administrator Kim Praytor stood in for Christy Howell, Norman; Stacie Paige, Sulphur; and Roy Griffith, Talihina.
“We've got a lot more good going on at our centers than bad, but we have to get rid of as much of that bad as we can, and hopefully working together we can do that. We're all pursuing the same goal which is just to ensure and have the peace of mind knowing that those who served our nation are getting the best care they possibly can,” said Simpson, Veterans Committee vice chair. “We know that there are probably some bad apples in the system but our job is to identify the bad apples and get them out of the system so they don't cause us any problems.”
The next meeting will be held on Tuesday, October 9 at 9:30am in 419C. All materials presented during Thursday’s meeting are available on the Senate website (www.oksenate.gov) by selecting Committees and then Interim Studies.