OKLAHOMA CITY — State senators and veterans center directors from across the state learned Tuesday that it is easier than they thought to remove an employee who abuses a veteran.
Norman Veterans Center Director Kim Praytor said she discovered that there is a way to remove an employee immediately when a veteran is harmed.
“Now we can go ahead with this,” Praytor said.
The leaders met Tuesday at the state Capitol, trying to get a grip on recurring problems at the state’s seven veterans centers.
Apparently, it has not been clear whether an abusive employee could be removed on the spot from being a caretaker.
That worker can be sent home immediately to assure that the employee has no more contact with an aggrieved veteran, said Lucinda Meltabarger, director of human capital management for the state.
Those thought to be abusive workers will remain on the state payroll for seven days. Employees can appeal their termination before the state Merit Commission, but it is rare that workers are reinstated to their former jobs.
In 2012, 640 state employees were terminated for various reasons, and not one of them was reinstated by the Merit Commission, said Sterling Zearley, executive director of the Oklahoma Public Employees Association.
Tom Dunning, OPEA public information officer, said those providing direct care to veterans “can be terminated on the spot if the managers believe an employee has abused, neglected or exploited someone under their care.”
Seven employees at the Norman center were terminated in September after it was discovered that the workers had been named benefactors of a veteran’s estate, but they were not terminated immediately after the problem surfaced last year.
The lawmakers and veteran center directors spent several hours Tuesday getting information about high employee turnover rates.
Three levels of workers provide direct care to patients: patient care assistants, licensed practical nurses and registered nurses.
It has been hardest to retain RNs, with the system-wide turnover rate at 74 percent annually, but the Norman center has only two vacancies out of its 23 allotted RN positions.
The Norman center also has 55 authorized LPNs, with 48 of them filled. The highest number of turnovers occur at the entry level positions (PCAs). Currently, Norman has 33 total vacancies.
Entry-level pay is $11 an hour, and workers have to man the centers 24/7, including weekends.
The ODVA budget from the state is about $37 million. The 25 percent provided by the state is matched; the other 75 percent comes from the federal government.