NORMAN — Editor, The Transcript:
A constant topic of discussion at the Norman Veterans Center’s monthly residents council meetings is staffing shortages and its impact on the quality of care given to the vets here. In an attempt to get information on why these shortages continue, I invited center administrator Terry Wilkerson to our April council meeting. He is the sixth Norman Veterans Center administrator in nine years. He’s been here for a handful of months and I was hopeful he would give the residents his plan to remedy this big problem. So far we have no new plan.
When asked about staffing shortages and why employees were quitting, Wilkerson announced that he didn’t know. Further, he said the reasons couldn’t be salaries because they were competitive and it had to be something else.
Last year, the state auditor conducted a performance audit of three vet homes, which included the Norman facility. The audit revealed that vet homes staff earned only 40 percent of what is paid for similar positions in states surrounding Oklahoma. Wilkerson was the administrator at the Lawton veterans home when the auditor’s report went public. Wilkerson has access to this audit.
In the weeks after the council meeting, staffing problems have worsened, when administration implemented new overtime rules, in which they will not pay overtime for replacements for staff that can’t make their shift and call in; refusal to pay overtime for staff who have to wait 20 or 30 minutes at the end of their shift for the next shift’s personnel assignments; and no overtime pay if an employee clocks out late even though there might be extenuating circumstances like veteran-related emergencies. All of these regulations have caused dissension among the staff and further shortages.
Staff shortages are occurring with increasing frequency. Easter weekend, we experienced staffing problems because of refusal to pay overtime for replacements for staff who called in. On overnight shifts, some wards have only one aide for 25 beds. Residents are at risk if there is a fire or a weather-related emergency. In a recent fire drill, it took so long to evacuate residents on one ward that the person conducting the drill declared 25 residents dead.