A Culture Of Corruption

According to state inspection reports, Oklahoma nursing homes were ranked among the best in the nation. The truth is, the state led the nation not in quality of care, but in corruption, reports CBS News Correspondent Vince Gonzales.

FBI wiretaps caught the state's top nursing home official, Brent VanMeter, demanding kickbacks after doctoring paperwork for a nursing home owner.

VanMeter: "When do you think old Brent might be able to benefit from his hard work?"

Nursing Home Owner: "Today."

VanMeter was convicted by a federal grand jury of federal bribery charges last year and sentenced to three years in prison. He was charged with seeking a bribe from a nursing home operator.

The bribery convictions are vindication for advocates for the elderly who had been warning federal officials about the corruption in Oklahoma's nursing homes for years. To them, this scandal is about much more than money.

Nursing Home Conditions
in Oklahoma
According to a Congressional report, of the 393 nursing homes in Oklahoma, 68 facilities — more than one out of every six — had a violation that caused actual harm to nursing home residents or placed them at risk of death or serious injury.

Click here to read the entire report.

"It's obscene to me and it's absolutely without question true that people died in facilities because of that corruption," said Ester Houser, a long term care ombudsman.

As Oklahoma's advocate for the elderly, she has been buried in nursing home complaints for years.

"The residents were allowed to live in inhumane conditions in certain homes and that was a result of Mr. VanMeter's philosophy towards the system."

He created a culture of corruption: homes tipped off before inspections, inspectors' reports altered, serious violations simply ignored.

Complete Coverage
For more of CBS News Correspondent Vince Gonzales' investigation into the country's nursing homes:
  • Tracking Abuse In Nursing Homes

  • The Hidden Danger: Neglect

  • Fighting Elder Abuse

  • Keeping An Eye On The Caregivers

  • "I think my grandmother was probably one of those people who died because of the corruption," said Wes Bledsoe.

    Wes Bledsoe's grandmother, Eunice Allen, died a week after the corruption scandal broke. Inspectors had repeatedly cited the nursing home, Southern Oaks Manor, for harming patients, but little was ever done.

    Bledsoe recalled, "I think one of the toughest things was knowing that my grandmother was suffering — what happened to her? Why is my grandmother dying of gangrene in a nursing home?"

    Nursing Home Web Links
    Click here for reports and resources.
    The family was stunned to find out the doctor who signed off on most of Allen's care was not a physician. Dr. Susan Byrd is in fact a nurse with a doctorate in education.

    "That hit me. It just took my breath away," said Bledsoe.

    The medical examiner ruled Allen's death "natural causes" but says "neglect" may have played a role. State investigators "substantiated medical neglect" and "substandard care." And referred the case to the local district attorney for possible criminal charges.

    Bledsoe is suing the home's owner, Denver McCormick.

    McCormick is the former head of the Oklahoma Nursing Home Association.

    It's Not Just Oklahoma
    State records show that Colorado health officials are violating federal law and possibly endangering the lives of many elderly by not checking up on nursing homes as often as required.

    In 2000, 20 percent of 550 assisted living facilities went unchecked, even though the law requires annual inspections by the Health Facilities Division, the Rocky Mountain News reported. Five nursing homes in Colrado that don't fall under federal guidelines haven't been checked since 1991.

    Source: AP

    Lawyers for McCormick and Byrd denied all allegations and said in a statement released a week after Eunice Allen's death the home "will continue to provide excellent care long after this story is forgotten."

    But Bledsoe will never forget. He's become a crusader and just launched a new nursing home reform group.

    "The purpose of this demonstration is to create awareness of the crisis, to unify and take effective action."

    The head of the Oklahoma Nursing Home Association says there is no crisis.

    "As far as nursing homes go, the public has had almost the perception that this may be widespread or ongoing and I can assure you that it's not," said Kelly Hardin.

    Brent VanMeter is in federal prison and some forty state employees have retired, been fired or indicted, but sources tell CBS News this corruption probe is not over.

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