To Comfort The Afflicted
And Afflict The Comfortable

To Comfort The Afflicted And Afflict The Comfortable

Tuesday, November 24, 2020

New Observercast

Lawmakers Urge Governor To Fire Two Key Veterans Affairs Officers

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BY MIKE W. RAY

Three state legislators have urged Gov. Mary Fallin to remove two key officers of the Oklahoma Department of Veterans Affairs, including the new director, for alleged violation of a federal law.

Reps. Brian Renegar, Chuck Hoskin and David Perryman, in a letter to the governor, said that less than two weeks ago the ODVA’s principal software, Point Click Care, “crashed, along with internet services” at the state’s seven veterans’ centers [Norman, Lawton, Ardmore, Claremore, Clinton, Sulphur and Talihina].

As a direct consequence, the lawmakers claim in their letter, medical providers at the state veterans centers “were told by ODVA central office” – via telephone call to all unit managers – to copy patient medical records onto the medical providers’ personal cell phones.

“This is a direct violation of federal HIPAA [Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act] regulations,” the legislators assert, and they contend “this violation could jeopardize the millions of federal funding dollars coming to our Oklahoma veterans.”

The ODVA received $94.7 million in federal funding for FY 2018, an increase of $58.7 million over the past decade, ledgers reflect. In comparison, state funding for the ODVA was slashed by almost 31% over the past decade – from $40.28 million in FY 2009 to $27.84 million in FY 2018.

The medical records transfer incident occurred because ODVA Executive Director Doug Elliott and Clinical Compliance Director Tina Williams “have little regard of, and knowledge of, health care,” the legislators said in their letter.

Elliott is an attorney; Williams’ experience is in nursing homes, not hospitals such as the state veterans’ centers; and Deputy Director Joel Kintsel previously was the parliamentarian at the Oklahoma House of Representatives, Renegar pointed out.

“The ODVA has a pattern of hiring people who have no health care experience,” he said.

Perryman, D-Chickasha; Hoskin, D-Vinita; and Renegar, D-McAlester, were the legislators who asked state Attorney General Mike Hunter last year to request an audit of the ODVA.

“A culture of fear and intimidation exists at ODVA,” state auditors subsequently reported. “Employees across the state actively fear for their jobs and report experiencing dictatorial and aggressive leadership from the central office.”

Staff members reported high turnover rates, inadequate staffing levels in the centers, and concerns about outsourcing of patient care services. For example, the ODVA has eliminated its EKG heart monitors, scrapped its laboratories, and has gotten rid of agency physicians, instead contracting with local doctors.

The investigation by the State Auditor and Inspector’s Office covered the three-year period of July 1, 2014, through June 30, 2017. It was the agency’s third audit in the last five years, and State Auditor Gary Jones said it is probably the most disturbing.

The ODVA was created in 1974 and administers seven long-term care centers that house approximately 1,300 military veterans.

Mike W. Ray spent 45 years as a journalist on newspapers in Oklahoma and Texas, two years in public relations with Southwestern Bell Telephone, plus 19 years as a media director at the Oklahoma House of Representatives

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