Homeless veterans home delays opening amid questions about licensing
When Our Heroes Residential Care Facility had an open house earlier this month, its owner said the center soon would become the service provider of choice for homeless veterans in Oklahoma City.
But the northwest Oklahoma City facility is drawing scrutiny after The Oklahoman raised questions about its licensing.
On its website, the facility claims it offers "medical supervision, counseling, medication management, home health care and special attention to the frail and debilitated." In promotional materials, the facility's owners claim it is approved by the Department of Veterans Affairs and certified by the Oklahoma Department of Mental Heath and Substance Abuse Services. They also claim the facility's license with the Oklahoma State Department of Health is pending.
But officials from those three agencies said neither the facility nor the company that owns it, Partners in Care LLC, had applied for or received the licenses or certifications the company claims.
The facility held its open house Nov. 15, and owner Chris Melvin said she expected residents would begin moving in soon afterward. But the following week, after a reporter inquired about the facility's licensing, representatives from the state Health Department and the state Mental Health Department made separate visits to the facility.
After meeting with those representatives, Tony Gammel, the facility's administrator, said the facility is delaying its opening while it pursues the appropriate licenses. Gammel said he didn't know when the facility will be able to open.
The facility at 901 NW 25 is meant to offer housing and other services, including counseling and wellness services, to veterans who are homeless or at risk of becoming homeless. During a facility tour earlier this month, Melvin told The Oklahoman that the facility was working closely with the Oklahoma City VA Medical Center. Melvin said a representative from the VA did a walk-through of the building, and the agency had begun referring patients to the facility.
But Stacy Rine, a spokeswoman for the Oklahoma City VA Medical Center, said the VA hadn't given the facility any kind of approval, as Melvin claims. The hospital has no relationship with the facility, Rine said, including patient referrals.
The center advertises itself as a community residential care facility, a designation the VA uses to refer to services for veterans who may not need hospital or nursing home care, but cannot live alone. That designation carries certain requirements, Rine said. To qualify, a facility would need to obtain a license through its state department of health. Then representatives from the facility would need to contact VA officials and ask to be part of the community residential care program.
In promotional brochures, Partners in Care claims the facility's license with the state Health Department is pending. But Tony Sellars, a spokesman for the department, said the agency has no record of Partners in Care applying for or being granted a license to operate as a community residential care program.
Melvin admits that the facility hasn't applied for a license from the state Health Department, but insists the "pending" label accurately describes its licensing status.
Likewise, the facility is not certified by the state Mental Health Department, as it claims, said department spokesman Jeff Dismukes.
Representatives visited the facility and determined that, because the center doesn't provide mental health or substance abuse treatment, it likely doesn't need the certification it claims it has. The department will continue to monitor the facility, Dismukes said. In the coming weeks, the department plans to issue a formal demand that the facility stop advertising that certification, he said.
“You can't say you're certified if you're not," Dismukes said.
Rine, the VA spokeswoman, said the agency hopes to work with the facility's owners to bring it into compliance. Housing homeless veterans is a high priority for the VA, she said, and the agency needs community partners in that effort.
Last month, there were 208 homeless veterans in Oklahoma City, down from 305 in January, according to figures from the Homeless Alliance.