CLAREMORE, Okla. – There are more than 300,000 veterans in Oklahoma, and seven state-run facilities for those vets in their golden years.
The family of one veteran recently contacted NewsChannel 4 after a horrific situation at the vet center in Claremore, Oklahoma.
Seaman First Class Richard Morrison enlisted in the Navy when he was just 15 years old.
He fought World War II in the Pacific and today fights a different battle; dementia.
His family noticed about a year and a half ago that he was showing signs of Alzheimer’s and needed help.
Morrison’s family tried live-in nursing care for almost two years.
They eventually decided his best option was the Claremore Veterans’ Center.
He had been here just five weeks when he was attacked by another resident in the dementia wing.
“Another gentleman came into my grandfather’s room while he was asleep and they got into a scuffle is the way it was portrayed to me.” said Morrison’s grandson and guardian, Steve Morrison.
According to the administrator at the Claremore Vet Center, an on-site doctor checked Morrison each day for three days following the attack and saw no signs of serious injury.
However, on the fourth day, Morrison started having seizures, and the staff sent him to the Claremore Hospital for emergency care.
The family took several snapshots of his injuries after Morrison was taken by medical helicopter to a hospital in Tulsa because of the nature of his injuries.
“We anticipated him waking up and being himself.” said Steve Morrison’s wife, Kristin. “But, he wasn’t even able to stay awake to eat. He wasn’t able to feed himself. He clearly can’t even sit up out of his bed. I mean it’s changed his entire life.”
Morrison had a traumatic brain injury; a hematoma, bleeding in his brain.
Because of the injury, Morrison sleeps most of the day. He cannot feed himself or move around like he used to.
“That’s really the hardest part is feeling like time with us has been stolen.” Kristin said.
“I feel like because of what happened and because he’s a WWII veteran the VA is responsible for taking care of him and for making this right. That’s really the bottom line.” said Steve. “I want them to handle this correctly, and I can’t get any answers as to how that’s going to take place.”
The family says they have had trouble getting information and return phone calls from the administrator at the Claremore Center, or any assurance that this type of thing won’t happen again.
“It was just down-played, and that’s been our experience throughout this entire process.” said Kristin. “Everything has been down-played and made to look very small. And what’s happened to him is not small at all. His entire life has changed. Our entire interaction with him has changed.”
The Oklahoma Department of Veterans Affairs runs seven vet centers across Oklahoma, including Claremore.
So far, the department has not offered to pay Morrison’s medical bills. In fact, the family says the only thing they got was a letter informing them his bed would go to another vet in 30 days.
Veterans Affairs spokesperson, Shane Faulkner said the care Morrison received at Claremore was adequate and appropriate.
“We have a very precious commodity here at the Department of Veterans Affairs; that’s our veterans.” Faulkner said. “We don’t want the family to feel like once he’s out of the building we don’t care for him anymore. That’s not the case. It’s just a protocol we have to follow. We have to keep our beds filled.”
Faulkner said the center’s funding depends on the number of veterans the center is serving.
“Something like this always gives us a chance to step back and see if we could have done something different, and that’s something that we’ll do.” said Faulkner. “We did the best we could to take care of the gentleman in this case.”
Richard Morrison’s case is just the latest in a string of complaints out of the Claremore Veterans’ Center in recent years. In fact, conditions were so bad at Claremore a few years ago the state legislature asked the State Health Department to step in. The state now conducts regular, unannounced visits to all the vet centers around the state.
The latest health department inspection at Claremore uncovered violations including failure to prevent clean glucose testers between patients, failure to properly change gloves while working with catheters and soiled clothing, and failure of the nursing staff to wash hands.
According to Health Department licensing supervisor Dorya Huser the safety and welfare of long-term care residents is a top priority.
“We go during dinnertime. We go on weekends. People don’t realize a survey or can show up at anytime. If someone says the night shift is the problem for one reason or another, then we’ll go in on the night shift.” Huser said.
The department cannot confirm whether they are currently investigating Richard Morrison’s allegations at the Claremore Veterans Center.
So, Morrison’s family is speaking out because they want other families like theirs to know about their experience to make sure Oklahoma’s most vulnerable vets are protected in their final years.