New report shows Grand Rapids Home for Veterans improved but not fully staffed

New report on veterans care in Grand Rapids

GRAND RAPIDS, MICH. - The Grand Rapids Home for Veterans is still not fully-staffed by contract requirements after a full 18 months of work and a complete overhaul of contractors supplying nurse aides and supervisors.  That's according to Michigan's Office of the Auditor General which released its most recent report on the state of affairs inside the facility on Thursday.

The report indicates the companies assigned to do the work, CareerStaff Unlimited and Maxim, are supposed to supply "a total of 9 CENA supervisors per day".  The auditor general found the contractors did not meet this requirement by an average of 2.9 supervisors, "ranging from 0.1 to 5.9 per day".

The auditor general also investigated whether the contractors met an established targeted daily staffing level of 115 nursing aides. The report concluded: "Although the targeted staffing level was not met by the contractors every day during the two months that we reviewed, we noted that staffing provided represented a significant improvement from the February 2016 audit."

Executives from the Michigan Veterans Affairs Agency who run the Grand Rapids Home for Veterans responded to the staffing concerns by agreeing the contractor did not meet the contractually required number of supervisors but also indicated they didn't feel they were understaffed by not having the supervisors in the facility.

The agency's response indicated: "However, in practice, we found that the number of supervisors required by the contracts was greater than actually needed." 

The MVAA continued: "In this regard, it bears mentioning that if the contractor provides fewer staff than requested, the Home is only invoiced for the number provided.  We mention this because it is important to us that the public is not led to believe that the Home is being cheated or wasting taxpayer dollars."

As for the mention of under staffing of nurse aides, which was a chronic problem under former contractor J2s, MVAA executives defend their current contract and say veterans are finally getting the care they deserve.  The MVAA suggests the auditor general's under staffing finding is a bit misleading because the contract they have with their contractors calls for more people than what's needed on a daily basis.  

"This latest report by the OAG reflects the incredible efforts of our dedicated staff at the Michigan Veteran Health System and Grand Rapids Home for Veterans to provide the best possible care to the home’s treasured members,” MVAA Director James Robert Redford wrote in a prepared statement. “We are committed to increasing the quality of life of the veterans we have the privilege of serving at our state veterans homes. While we have largely addressed past audit findings, we recognize there will always be room for improvement. The agency is in the process of making changes to comply with this latest finding.”

There are conflicting views whether the new contractors and their workers are treating veterans better at the moment.

Current resident of the Grand Rapids Home for Veterans Tony Spallone told us in late July caregivers currently are not well-trained and often come to work poorly-dressed, leading to a lower standard of care.  Spallone said the privatization of employees that started in 2011 has been a disaster for people living in the facility.

MVAA's Director James Redford issued a statement last month saying veterans are being cared for properly.

“Since February 2016, everyone at MVAA and the Michigan Veterans Health System has been working very hard to address all findings of the audit, and substantial progress has been made,” Redford said.

Redford indicated the home has increased staffing, instituted both member location checks and random checks of reports by each assistant director of nursing.

Last month, Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette charged 11 caregivers with falsifying medical records, a felony.  The caregivers, who all worked for the previous contractor J2s, documented they checked on veterans when they hadn't.

The auditor general in its new report found the Grand Rapids Home for Veterans has substantially improved on the member checks with a 97 percent rate being done. In the 2 percent of checks that were not done and were documented they were done, the auditor general reported the home either terminated the offending employees or re-educated the applicable staff to ensure complete compliance.

The new auditor general report also shows the facility has improved in administering prescribed pharmaceuticals and have better controls over the use and supply of nonnarcotic pharmaceuticals.  The facility is also in compliance handling member complaints.

The Michigan Veterans Affairs Agency (MVAA) currently administrates the Grand Rapids Home for Veterans and is in the midst of building a new Home for Veterans facility in Grand Rapids along with a new one to be built in Detroit at a cost of $108 million. The project is currently in the design phase and does not yet have federal approval. Sources indicate it could be 2020 and beyond before the facility is functioning.

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