Governor Rick Snyder said in an interview Monday that veterans at the Grand Rapids Home for Veterans deserve better care than what they've received.
Gov. Snyder acknowledged the state is playing "catch-up" to make sure people are well-cared for at the facility. Snyder said he felt the state, generally, had done a lot to help veterans across the state but was disappointed at how people were being treated at the Grand Rapids Home for Veterans.
The 13 Watchdog team has investigated several issues at the Home for Veterans over the past six months. Last month, the state Auditor General released a scathing audit that showed staff members falsified records to show veterans had been checked on when they hadn't been.
The 13 Watchdog team reported in October allegations that a member at the facility was punished by being asked to take out the trash. The patient, we're told, did not have the capability to understand why he was being punished.
The audit from the Auditor General found that J2S, the company hired to provide nursing aides to the facility, did not meet the required staffing needs 81% of the time during four sampled months. Shortages were as much as 22 staff on a given day.
We asked Gov. Snyder what could be done to improve the staffing situation.
"We are working with them to make sure there's better staffing, more consistent staffing, and less turnover -- so there are a number of things to create an environment to make that happen," Gov. Snyder said. "The contract goes to September, but just waiting until September isn't good enough. It's about these members getting better, consistent quality of care."
We asked whether we could trust J2S to perform the job until the contract with the company expires at the end of September. The 13 Watchdog team found the company was down by at least eight employees on shifts on Saturday and Sunday of this past weekend.
"You don't take that for granted given the track record," Gov. Snyder said.
Gov. Snyder told us the company is not getting paid for work it doesn't perform and said his first goal was to make sure members get quality care. Snyder said there are steps being taken to address issues in the contract with J2S. Citing legal issues, he wouldn't be specific as to what would be done if the contractor continues to default.
We asked the Governor if it's possible to bring back state workers who were let go during the privatization of the facility in 2011.
"It's fair to say there's a lot of options looking at the contract ending and there's a lot of activities being taken on to get better performance," Gov. Snyder said. "It's not just about throwing money, it's about taking care of real people."
We asked if Gov. Snyder could promise people that the veterans are going to be taken care of during the remaining life of the contract with J2S.
"The commitment I am making to the members is we are doing everything we can to improve their care and to get them more consistent care," Gov. Snyder said.
State leaders have threatened multiple times, in letters, to cancel the contract with J2S if the vendor continued to default on the contract.
Some union leaders are holding out hope that more than 100 state employees who were laid off for this privatization could be recalled to bring staffing levels back up.