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Audit pans understaffed Grand Rapids vets home

February 23, 2016

The state’s chronically understaffed Grand Rapids Home for Veterans is not properly investigating abuse cases, keeping track of $5.2 million in drugs or checking on residents when they fall, according to a highly critical audit released Friday.

Lawmakers were given the Auditor General’s summary today and they don’t like what they see. The Auditor tagged the Veterans Home for five material conditions, concluding that the Home’s ability to provide care for its members was “not sufficient.” 

The audit concluded 90 percent of abuse and neglect complaints were not properly forwarded to the director of nursing over a 23-month period. Roughly $5.2 million in non-narcotic drugs were not properly accounted for at the Home or protected against loss or misuse, the audit found. 

The state’s contractor, J2S, was understaffed 81 percent of the time during four sampled months, according to the audit. In at least one case, it was 22 staff members short. Two years ago, MIRS reported the private contractor hired to replace certified nursing aides (CNA) was having so much trouble finding enough people to fulfill its contract, it was resorting to frantic posts on Craigslist to round up staff. 

The Grand Rapids Home for Veterans also provided paperwork showing that it made 100 percent of its regular location checks and 96 percent of its checks on fall alarms, but video surveillance video shows checks were only made 43 and 33 percent of the time, respectively. 

On the financial side, the Home is at risk of losing $883,700 in eligible insurance reimbursements over a 23-month period because it didn’t bill all of the members’ insurance companies or follow up on rejected claims, the audit claims. 

Also, $167,700 in disbursement of deceased or discharged members’ funds may not have been released in a timely manner. The Home also left at least $248,800 of past due member assessments outstanding for up to three years. 

The Michigan Veterans Affairs Agency, which is under the Michigan Department of Military and Veterans Affairs (DMVA), agreed with all nine findings. 

Today’s findings have many lawmakers infuriated considering the Auditor General issued a highly critical audit of the Grand Rapids Home for Veterans in 2013. Many of the same issues about the handling of money and non-narcotic drugs were brought up at that time, as well. 

“I’m not sure what words I can use to describe my feelings,” said House Oversight and Ethics Committee Chair Ed McBroom (R-Vulcan). “It leaves someone speechless unless you’re a swearing individual.” 

McBroom said he’s planning on at least two hearings as soon as possible, maybe along with the Senate, after which he expects to make some recommendations that will be forwarded to the House’s standing committee and/or the House’s appropriations subcommittee on veterans issues. 

Over in the Senate, the chairs of two committees announced today they would be holding hearings on the issue. 

“What is happening at the Grand Rapids Home for Veterans is unacceptable and a disservice to those who served our country,” said Sen. Margaret O’Brien (R-Portage), chair of the Senate Veterans, Military Affairs and Homeland Security Committee. 

She is teaming up with Sen. Peter MacGregor (R-Rockford), chair of the Senate Oversight Committee. 

Larry Inman (R-Traverse City), chair of the House DMVA Appropriations Subcommittee, said he has yet to see the full report, but from what he’s learned about it, “We have to take it seriously.” 

The Department has said the audit has already spurred a number of personnel changes. 

“We need to get this cleared up so the Veterans Home is being operated with the proper controls,” Inman said. 

Sen. David Knezek (D-Dearborn Heights), a veteran of the Iraq War, said he was “devastated” by the Auditor General’s findings. He wants joint investigative hearings, with subpoena power, now. 

The plan stemming from the 2013 audit was not followed and what he’s seeing is the “deplorable” use of “pinching pennies at the expense of our servicemen and women.” 

“Now is not the time for talk. It’s time to take action,” he said. “I cannot simply accept another written plan of action that won’t be followed by government bureaucrats.” 

Democrats quickly pointed out that the state’s contract with J2S for the CNAs was flagged several years ago as a potential problem while Republicans went with the contractor as a way to save an estimated $4 million a year during tight budget times. The DMVA defended the care at the home at the time. 

Republican lawmakers like Rep. Holly Hughes (R-Montague) should be mad at each other for voting for budgets that allowed the privatization of the Grand Rapids Home to happen and then “sat around on their ass and pretended like nothing was happening,” said Brandon DILLON, former Representative from Grand Rapids and now the Michigan Democratic Party Chair. 

“They were warned time and time again of problem and they never did anything. Now they want to play hero,” Dillon said. “It’s the same attitude that gave us Flint. Unless there is a crisis, they ignore everything that contradicts their theory of government.” 

Hughes was the first lawmaker to put out a press statement on the situation, saying “We will get to the bottom of this and demand accountability from the people responsible, whether that be further inquiry, reprimands or job termination.” 

Will the Republicans look to nix J2S’ contract and return to state employees? 

A “furious” chair of the House Military & Veterans Affairs Committee, Rep. Tom Barrett (R-Potterville), who has served in the military for 15 years, said he’s willing to explore all options to remedy the situation. 

“I don’t know if the contract is the sole source of the issues. There may have been some systemic problems that need to be addressed, too, but enough is enough,” he said. “We need to fix this. If that means another contractor, state employees, whatever, we need to do it.” 

Gov. Rick Snyder Press Secretary Dave Murray said, “We appreciate the thoroughness of the Auditor General, and we are closely reviewing the audit. The initial reports are deeply troubling.”

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