Michigan Senate panel studies complaints about Grand Rapids veterans home
Detroit Free Press
LANSING, Mich. — Lawmakers are taking seriously complaints that care for veterans has deteriorated since state nursing assistants at the Grand Rapids Home for Veterans were replaced by lower-paid workers hired by a contractor, a committee chairman said Thursday.
Among the confirmed incidents is one in which a nursing assistant placed tape over a veteran’s mouth, although it’s disputed whether the incident was part of a game or an act of cruelty.
Sen. Patrick Colbeck, R-Canton, chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee’s subcommittee on State Police and military affairs, said he saw some disturbing trends after loading a list of complaints against contractor J2S Group into a spreadsheet. But he hasn’t determined whether the neglect and other complaints are a result of the contractor or other “extenuating circumstances,” he said.
On Thursday, Democratic state Reps. Brandon Dillon and Winnie Brinks, both from Grand Rapids, said they want a state investigation into the quality of care at the home, which houses about 500 residents.
The subcommittee is looking into how complaints are tracked and investigated, and whether an outside party should be involved.
J2S company spokesman John Truscott said most of the allegations are either false or not directed at J2S.
The state estimated it would save about $4 million a year after it laid off about 150 state nursing aides in March and turned the work over to J2S Group. Earlier this year, the Civil Service Commission approved the privatization deal after hearing complaints from union members, relatives and residents about the quality of care that J2S provides. J2S had provided fill-in nursing assistants help at the home earlier.
Nick Ciaramitaro, legislative director for the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Council 25, which represented the workers who were laid off, said he presented the subcommittee with an extensive list of complaints three months ago. He said they were turned over to the Department of Military and Veterans Affairs, which runs the home, for responses.
But department officials who testified Thursday about improvements to equipment and other positive changes did not address the complaints, Ciaramitaro said. The complaints, which range from neglect to theft to injury to residents, are expected to be addressed at the committee’s next meeting, along with concerns about the complaint procedure.
“This is nothing more than a union attempt to try to overturn a state policy of privatizing some of the work,” Truscott said.
Dillon told the subcommittee a J2S worker put tape over a resident’s mouth and ripped it off in “an act of despicable cruelty.”
Truscott said the worker and the resident were “joking around, having fun” with the tape, and the resident was laughing. Still, the worker was suspended by J2S because the play was inappropriate, and the resident asked that the worker be put back on the job, Truscott said.
Lino Pretto, a member of the board of managers for the state’s two veterans homes, said the Grand Rapids home is going through a transition as the new workers gain experience.
“It’s going to be a little bit uncomfortable for a while,” Pretto told the subcommittee. “People are not going to be happy with some of the things that occur, but we are working on it.”