TALIHINA, Okla. (AP) — The family of the second veteran to die in recent months at an Oklahoma Veterans Center says he almost died at the Talihina facility once before because of a choking hazard that went undetected.
Relatives of 70-year-old Leonard Smith told the Tulsa World that they were notified of his death last week by a nurse practitioner who said his death was accidental. But the Navy veteran's family said it wasn't until Friday that they learned, through the newspaper, that his death was under investigation by multiple state and federal agencies.
Smith's niece, Christine Cornwell, said the deputy director of the center, Doug Elliott, called the family later that day to inform them that the information originally given of Smith's death was wrong.
"He said that what I was initially told was wrong. That the plastic (discovered in Smith's throat) was not removed prior to his death, as the nurse practitioner had said, but after he passed, as was printed in the newspaper," she said.
Cornwell said the circumstances of Smith's death were disturbingly similar to an incident that occurred two years ago, when she received an urgent phone call saying her uncle had choked on a piece of meat and was being taken to a hospital.
Smith's death came four months after the death of a resident who was discovered with maggots in a wound.
State lawmakers recently filed emergency legislation to try to shut down the facility. On Friday, Republican Sen. Frank Simpson said Smith's death was "further evidence" that the facility should be closed and moved to another city as soon as possible.
He proposed a bill in January to relocate the veterans at the Talihina center. If approved, it would take effect immediately.
The center wouldn't be commenting on the investigation, said Shane Faulkner, public information officer at the Oklahoma Department of Veterans Affairs.