MIDWEST CITY — The state has fined a nursing home $168,000 for taking in a convicted murderer, a rapist and two other felons injured in a prison riot.
The inmates, who stayed at the Midwest City home for nearly a month, were shackled to their beds, not far from the typical residents one would find in any nursing facility.
Detailed in a report by the state Health Department, the unusual arrangement at the nursing home is described as “bizarre and reckless.”
Dorya Huser, chief of long-term care for the state's Protective Health Services, said the inmates' stay at Buena Vista Care and Rehabilitation Center is “completely shocking … and I've been doing this a while.”
According to state documents, the inmates were at the nursing home from Oct. 19, 2011, to Nov. 15, 2011.
Huser said it's the first time she's heard of such a thing.
“To put felons in a nursing home is just appalling,” she said. “They had been convicted of extremely serious crimes, and that in itself would make them a danger to other residents.”
Buena Vista was fined an additional $180,000 for other infractions uncovered during an inspection earlier in the year. These fines arose from failure to comply with various provisions required of facilities that get federal money.
Huser said the realization that four dangerous felons had lived at the nursing came during a routine inspection in March.
“We went in there to do a regular survey and came upon this,” Huser said. “Everybody was puzzled as to how on earth this happened.”
Huser said residents of the facility were “very much impacted” by the presence of the inmates, who were shackled and chained to their beds and watched at all times by two armed guards.
“The prisoners were taken through the facility, at times, and the residents saw them during that time,” she said. “It was very unsettling for them. Try and imagine that.”
The investigative report also indicates a third guard was assigned to patrol outside the building for invaders — a troubling possibility, Huser said.
“What if the people the inmates had got into it with to begin with had located them,” Huser said. “I think the home got lucky that nothing happened.
“In truth, they had felons in there that were involved in a riot. They didn't know who was going to show up at the door.”
All of the inmates at North Fork Correctional Facility are from California, which began transporting prisoners out of state years ago to ease overcrowding.
The prison, located in the small western Oklahoma town of Sayre, is owned and staffed by Corrections Corporation of America, one of the largest private prison companies in the world.
Mike Machak, spokesman for the prison company, confirmed the inmates were from North Fork and that they were sent to Buena Vista to recover from injuries they suffered during an Oct. 11, 2011, riot at the sprawling facility.
The riot, described by local law enforcement as the worst in the prison's history, left 46 prisoners injured. Sixteen of those were hurt badly enough to be taken to nearby hospitals.
Three prisoners were in critical condition, prison officials said shortly after the riot.
Machak said the decision to place the inmates at the nursing home was recommended to the prison company.
The inmates, who aren't named, all had severe head injuries and a variety of other ailments, the report shows.
“After consultation with (the) hospital and other medical professionals, it was determined that the most appropriate treatment for the injured inmates was a skilled nursing facility,” said Machak, who noted that “at least two highly trained officers” guarded the inmates at all times.
“At no time were the patients, staff or public at risk.”
Yet, according to the Health Department's report and findings, the 120-plus residents of Buena Vista were in “immediate jeopardy” for the 28 days the inmates lived at the home.
“This is not what nursing homes are for,” Huser said. “And that's the reason the fine was so high. Those residents were in immediate jeopardy while those inmates were there.”
“What are those old people supposed to do if somebody comes through that door with a gun?”
Machak would not say whether Corrections Corporation of America has ever used nursing homes to house badly injured inmates in the past under similar circumstances.
Attempts to get comments for this story from Buena Vista administrators were not successful.
The nursing home was fined a total of $347,450 for violations uncovered during the inspection in March.
Such fines are handed down by Medicare and Medicaid Services, a federal agency that works with states to provide oversight of the Medicare program and parts of the Medicaid program covered by federal dollars.
The fine has been paid, but the case has been appealed and is still waiting for a final determination.