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NORMAN, Okla. - An Oklahoma veterans' advocate died last year in a rehabilitation center, and now her family is speaking out about what they call neglect and abuse.
Edwina Luker was a tireless advocate for veterans.
"I am who I am today because of her," said Retired U.S. Army veteran Ed Pulido.
Luker was a veterans administration social worker who dedicated 38 years to serving those who served our country.
"I met her at the medical center. She was a very sweet lady, passionate, lovable. She was a mother figure to a lot of our veterans," Pulido said. "We failed her. And, that's sad because she didn't deserve that. No one deserves that."
Luker fought for our nation's heroes. But, in the end, for her, there was no protection from a painful, humiliating death.
"It is not okay to abuse old people. It is not," said Luker's daughter, Teresa Sterling. "Just because you're gonna die doesn't mean you don't get to die with dignity and respect. It's not okay."
Sterling is a retired Oklahoma City police detective and a specialist in child abuse. She believes her mother's death is a case of elderly abuse and neglect.
"I started working my mom's case myself," Sterling said.
Luker turned 75 years old last year. She was still active in the veterans' community.
She'd just built a house. She adored her grandchildren and cat.
But, on Thanksgiving Day, she was rushed to the emergency room at Norman Regional Healthplex with a serious case of bacterial meningitis.
After six days in the hospital, Luker was moved to a nearby rehabilitation center called Medical Park West.
Within the first week of her stay at Medical Park West, Sterling said she found her mother in disgusting conditions.
"She was laying in a bed covered in urine and diarrhea," Sterling said. "It went all the way up her back. That's how much there was."
Sterling began documenting the neglect. She remembered her mother's diapers hadn't been changed for hours and she hadn't been bathed in three days.
"When they took her diaper off, she had horrible diaper rash," Sterling said. "I mean the skin was gone from her inner thigh and on her buttocks. It was horrible."
The family complained. The facility promised they would do better.
Instead, Sterling believes the staff at Medical Park West retaliated against her mother forcing her to sit in her wheelchair in pain for hours on end.
The family had decided they were going to move her after Christmas out of Medical Park West.
But, on Christmas Eve, Luker got violently ill. Sterling said the director of nursing refused to call an ambulance to take her mother down the street to the emergency room.
"They wouldn't listen," Sterling said through tears. "They don't care. That's the problem. Nobody cares."
Three hours later, Luker was dead.
When Sterling went to see her mother at the hospital where she was pronounced dead, Luker was missing her prized possession: a one-carat diamond wedding ring.
Sterling saw it on her ring finger that night as she cleaned vomit from her mother's hands.
The ring was so tight, Sterling had tried to remove it before but it wouldn't come off.
"Not only did they abuse her and neglect her, and they didn't care enough about her to get her treatment. Then, just stab me in the heart one more time," Sterling said. "Just steal her ring."
EMSStat ambulance service transported Luker to the hospital. Sterling called after her mother's death and was told paramedics picked Luker up at Medical Park West without any property.
"She was naked and had no property," Sterling said. "So, (Medical Park West nursing staff) had to have not started CPR on her before they stole that ring."
Norman Regional Health System issued this statement:
"Norman Regional has no definite record of the patient's ring being in our facility or ambulance. We share our deepest condolences to the family."
The Oklahoma State Department of Health (OSDH) has investigated a number of complaints at Medical Park West. OSDH has made more than 20 investigative trips to the facility in the past five years.
Investigators have substantiated complaints including failing to properly staff the facility and protect residents from personal property going missing.
In the days following Luker's death, her family members went to Medical Park West to inquire about her care and missing jewelry.
One family member was able to wander the halls unescorted. He took cellphone video that indicates no one asked him to leave until he started asking questions at the nurses' station.
Sterling believes it is ironic she spent her entire police career protecting other people's families from neglect and abuse yet was unable to protect her own mother.
"We love you, and we honor you and we're so sorry that happened," Pulido said of Sterling. "Her mom didn't deserve that. Her mom was a champion. Her mom healed and put us together as veterans when we come back."
News 4 called Medical Park West repeatedly, daily for more than a week. Many messages were left and unreturned by staff or administrators at the nursing home.
Medical Park West administrator Daniel Gravatt refused to discuss Luker's care or the theft of her ring.
"I can't comment," Gravatt said. "I can't comment on anything that's going on."
Sterling has filed complaints with the health department and the attorney general's office. She is now seeking other family members who have complaints about the care at Medical Park West.
For more information, email: email@example.com. To file a consumer complaint about a nursing home or rehab facility, click here.