LANSING, MICH. - After spending a little more than a year as the top leader at the Grand Rapids Home for Veterans, CEO Leslie Shanlian says she's had enough of the government bureaucracy hurting care for our most vulnerable veterans.
"It took me almost a year to get mattresses in for our members," Shanlian said.
Shanlian is leaving the state government, moving to the private sector. Her departure comes at a critical juncture for the employees and veterans at the Grand Rapids Home for Veterans.
Shanlian is pulling for state lawmakers to pass legislation by the end of the year, which would create the "Michigan Veterans Facility Authority": a new governmental organization that would have broad powers to run the two veterans' homes in Michigan.
"It's more frustrating dealing with road blocks and loopholes to accomplish something for the veterans when you know it could be much more simply done with an authority or the private sector," Shanlian said.
Union leaders are telling us, though, they are very concerned about the creation of this authority. They believe if the new governmental entity is established, it would attempt to hire people without using civil service rules. Labor leaders say they believe the Grand Rapids Home for Veterans will be much smaller, potentially meaning as many as 200 layoffs.
Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder and James Redford, the director of the Michigan Veterans Affairs Agency, both told WZZM layoffs are not on the table and the move to create the authority isn't meant to get rid of union workers.
"It's not in terms of busting up unions, it's about looking at an authority and best practices," Snyder told the Watchdog team.
"The bill that I've read doesn't say there are going to be layoffs," Redford said. "It doesn't say anything other than it's going to design a system to provide best possible and most responsive care to our veterans because this is our goal."
MVAA spokeswoman Suzanne Thelen told us it's likely there will be a reduction in the workforce at the Grand Rapids Home for Veterans, though, through attrition and retirements. She says the Grand Rapids Home for Veterans will likely be a 120-bed facility after everything is changed.
To add some space, the state is hoping to build a new home in southeast Michigan.
The Senate fiscal committee indicated there have been estimates that a new facility could be built in Detroit housing 125 veterans for a cost of $82 million, approximately $53 million would come from the federal government. There are also plans to build a new facility in Grand Rapids at the current Home for Veterans site for a cost of $70 million, with $45 million coming from the federal government.
Lawmakers are racing to get the legislation done before the end of this term. If they don't complete it, they'll need to start from scratch in 2017.
There's a pending deadline of April to get requests into the federal government for the money.
Shanlian said veterans shouldn't be scared of the changes coming because she says the facilities will be able to operate in a more patient-centered environment. As for the employees, she said high performers will always be retained.
"If you're a good employee, you have nothing to worry about," Shanlian said.
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