Snyder replaces agency chief after problems at veterans home
By DAVID EGGERT | Associated Press | Published: February 19, 2016
LANSING, Mich. — Gov. Rick Snyder on Friday quickly replaced the director of Michigan's Veterans Affairs Agency after an audit uncovered problems at a state-run nursing home for veterans, calling the findings "deeply troubling."
Jeff Barnes, a former Army officer, had led the agency since its creation in 2013 before submitting his resignation. Barnes was previously Snyder's deputy chief of staff and managed his 2010 political campaign.
An audit made public Thursday said workers at the Grand Rapids Home for Veterans falsely claimed they were checking on patients, failed to properly investigate allegations of abuse and neglect, and took too long to fill prescriptions. Auditors also said the 415-resident facility provided insufficient care and continued with inadequate staffing levels even as the state filed four complaints over a 1½-year period against a company hired to supply nursing aides.
Snyder said veterans deserve higher standards of care, and legislators have promised hearings.
"A new leadership team is in place, which I am relying on to address the audit," the governor said in a statement released before a formal announcement was made by other top veterans administrators during a news conference in Grand Rapids.
The audit covered events from October 2013 through August 2015.
James Redford, Snyder's chief legal counsel and a former judge, will lead the agency for now. He served in the Navy as part of the Judge Advocate General's Corps.
Barnes will be reassigned within the Michigan Department of Military and Veterans Affairs, which oversees the agency. The agency oversees the new Michigan Veteran Health System, which has supervised the home since last fall.
"Jeff is passionate about helping his fellow veterans," Snyder said. "I know he is as troubled by these findings as I am."
Asked why Barnes still has a state job, Snyder spokesman Dave Murray said he set in place a number of important programs and made changes when concerns about the veterans home were raised. "The governor wanted to find a place where his skills can be used to help veterans," Murray said.
The agency, which agreed with the audit conclusions, said it was making changes to comply with recommendations and bring the home in line with industry best practices.
"I apologize to any veterans that their quality of care was below standard. These findings are unacceptable, and we're committed to fixing the problems highlighted in the report," said Major General Gregory Vadnais, director of the Military and Veterans Affairs Department.
He said top administrators at the home were replaced beginning in October. Leslie Shanlian was appointed as chief executive of the Michigan Veteran Health System to coordinate operations in Grand Rapids and at the D.J. Jacobetti Home for Veterans in Marquette.
Officials said the Grand Rapids home has begun implementing electronic medical records and making updates to document residents' activities. Shanlian said policy has been revised so complaints are investigated quickly, and she has asked a state ombudsman to provide outside oversight.
Democratic lawmakers and unions said the problems at the facility, which opened in 1886, show the failure of contracting government jobs to the private sector. In 2011, Snyder and the Republican-controlled Legislature decided to privatize about 170 care aide positions at the home to save money. J2S Group-HealthForce in Grand Rapids, which supplies the employees, filed a complaint against the state after the state complained for a fourth time in October about the firm not meeting required staffing.
Shanlian told The Associated Press on Thursday that the home has 275 fewer residents than when the contract began. She said that while staffing has been short of contracted levels, the facility is exceeding federal standards.
"The state needs to stop shortchanging these brave men and women, and take immediate action by terminating its contract with J2S, which has proven to be totally inadequate and incompetent," Michigan AFL-CIO President Ron Bieber said. "Our veterans deserve nothing less."
A message seeking comment from a representative for J2S was not returned on Friday.