The Norman Transcript

January 26, 2013

AG confirms investigation of veterans system

By M. Scott Carter
The Associated Press

OKLAHOMA CITY — Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt’s office is conducting a criminal investigation into the state’s veterans system, his spokeswoman confirmed Thursday.

Diane Clay, Pruitt’s spokeswoman, said the investigation would focus on the entire system, and not just a single veterans center.

“The attorney general’s office is conducting a criminal investigation and has the option of bringing the issue before the multi-county grand jury,” Clay said.

Pruitt’s investigation comes on the heels of published reports of abuse, neglect, rapes and deaths at several of the state’s veterans centers, including the scalding death of World War II veteran Jay Minter in May.

Minter died May 3, a day after he was placed in a malfunctioning whirlpool at the Claremore Veterans Center. A state medical examiner’s report said Minter had burns on more than 50 percent of his body.

Following Minter’s death, two investigations by the Oklahoma Department of Veterans Affairs substantiated charges of abuse and neglect by several members of the Claremore center’s staff, including Cindy Schnell, the center’s director of nursing. The results of those investigations were delivered to Pruitt’s office.

The ODVA’s first report, written in May, recommended that Schnell be suspended from her job. In that report, investigator Steven Pancoast also recommended the termination of Melinda Cross - the certified nurse’s aide who placed Minter into a malfunctioning whirlpool - and the suspension of two other employees at the center.

Cross was subsequently fired, while Schnell and the other employees were suspended with pay.

A second ODVA report written in November and obtained by The Journal Record this week called for Schnell to be charged with criminal negligence over Minter’s death.

In both reports, investigators questioned why Schnell allowed Cross to remain as a nurse’s aide. Investigators cited a history of medical problems and concerns by Cross’ doctor that she was unable to fully concentrate on her work and adequately care for the elderly.

“Mrs. Schnell was indifferent to an obvious and serious risk to the health and welfare of the residents, recognized (that) the risk (was) present and deliberately chose to run that risk by doing nothing about it,” according to the ODVA’s second report.

The November report also included documents that showed Schnell was aware of Cross’ medical problems for months before Minter’s death. According to the report, Cross had not been released from the care of her doctor at the time of Minter’s death.

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