GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — After changes ranging from the way contracts are laid out to a shake-up of on-site administrators to a brand new top administrator in Lansing, residents of the Grand Rapids Home for Veterans seem cautiously optimistic.
In March, new Michigan Veterans Affairs Agency Director James Robert Redford joined state legislators as they listened to a litany of complaints from Grand Rapids veterans that included potential elder abuse and intimidation of those who complained.
He made this vow on March 10: “If we find anything that we believe needs to be referred to the Michigan State Police, the Kent County Sheriff’s Department or the Grand Rapids Police Department or any federal agency, we are going to do it instantly.”
After nearly three months of looking into the complaints, Redford told 24 Hour News 8 on Tuesday that he is “so grateful for our partners in Grand Rapids Police Department.”
“I have specifically asked and they have come in for matters to look into,” he continued.
He said he’s ‘not aware’ of any arrests.
“And I’m telling you here today and I’ll tell every one of your viewers, if we believe there is a situation where one of the people we have the privilege of serving has been the victim of criminal activity, you bet we’re calling the law enforcement,” he said.
Redford, a former Kent County judge, said authorities have also investigated claims that people who complained faced retribution by administration.
“We are a free and noble country because of these women and men who wore the cloth of their nation. We are certainly not going to be punishing anybody for speaking to anybody,” he said.
A number of top level staff at the home have left or have been moved to different positions.
“I haven’t fired anybody, but, you know, people make decisions individually,” Redford said.
CONTRACT SPLIT INTO THREE
J2S, the private contracting firm that took over nursing assistant care from unionized state employees, was the target of many complaints. J2S’s contract expires in October and the contract for the facility has been split into three smaller contracts.
“I wouldn’t comment on whether it’s too big a job for one or not. I think what we’re trying to do is to be as creative and as thoughtful as possible,” Redford said.
So far, six agencies have made bids on parts of the contract, but J2S is not one of them. Companies have until mid-June to bid on the contracts.
“I think we’re going in the right direction. We’re not there yet. We haven’t met all our staffing level needs and that’s very, very troubling. We have so much work to do,” Redford said.
WHAT DO RESIDENTS THINK?
Redford said he has worked to make sure that the concerns of veterans are listened to and taken into account, so 24 Hour News 8 went to the veterans to find out they see that is happening.
“As of now, I don’t see too much change. Maybe a little bit in a lot of small spots,” Jerry Luckstead, an eight-year resident, said.
Betty Pike, the wife of a resident who is there every day, said, “I think, generally, yes, it’s improving.”
“Well, for the first time in about four years, I have some hope as to the outlook of the home,” said Kenneth Hammond, who was thinking about leaving the home before the changes were made.
Veterans said that while the home has always been a good place to stay overall, they have seen dark times.
“It’s just been too long. Members are suffering because they’re not getting the correct care they need,” Luckstead said.
Many point to the changeover from state employees to employees provided by J2S when discussing the problems. The issues seem to stem from the inability to keep employees long enough to become experienced and competent. There are also complaints that workers fail to show up for shifts, leaving the facility short-staffed.
But early this year, Gov. Rick Snyder replaced many at the top.
“They’re trying to correct things that happened four or five years ago and still trying to run this day-to-day operation and that’s a huge, huge thing,” Hammond said.
Most veterans say they like the changes they have seen.
“Give them a chance to make the changes,” Pike said. “You can’t get things immediately. It takes time sometimes.”
Asked if he was optimistic about the future of the home, Luckstead answered, “We’re trying to be. But we’re going to stay on top of it.”