GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — The Michigan Attorney General is actively investigating allegations of abuse, neglect and fraud at the Grand Rapids Home for Veterans.
At the same time, the embattled private company that provides health care workers to the home is being replaced in parts of the home.
In an unusual move, the AG is making its investigation public hoping that those who have allegations will come forward.
“We are looking at everything that can come in our direction. It’s broad, it’s detailed and it’s comprehensive to make sure that Michigan veterans get the care that they earned,” Andrea Bitely, spokesperson for the state Attorney General’s office, said.
It is welcome news to veterans at the home and their advocates, like Catherine Kooyers. Vets and their families have spoken with special agents from the AG’s office, she explained.
“Finally, somebody’s listening,” she said.
In March, legislators in Lansing heard horror stories from veterans and their families about residents who were neglected and sometimes victims of outright abuse at the home. That led to a promise from the newly appointed head of the state Veterans Affairs Agency James Robert Redford to promise that any criminal activity would be promptly investigated.
The AG’s investigation was opened after a scathing audit revealed numerous problems at the home related to proper care and timely refilling of prescriptions, among other issues.
“At first, the issues just seemed totally unbelievable to me. There were reports of veterans with maggots, there were a lot of stories of them being forced to lie in bed for hours, getting bed sores, not getting treatment for the bedsores, major issues,” Kooyers said. “And we believe that some of these deaths that are being attributed to natural causes are related to medical overdoses and we have reason to believe that and we talked to the AG inspector about that.”
In addition to improper care, it appears the Attorney General’s health care fraud division is also looking at potential misallocation of money used in a variety of areas at the home. Additionally, questions have been raised by investigators about whether items and funds donated to the home actually benefited the veterans.
“Two years ago, these veterans did not have their constitutional rights to speak, they not allowed to meet with their legislators, and they were not allowed to voice their concerns without retaliation. Those days are over,” Kooyers said.
This investigation was generally welcomed on both sides of the aisle, with some saying it has been too long in coming.
“This is the investigation I have been requesting for three years, ever since veterans and their families began telling me about substandard care, abuse and neglect at the home,” State Rep. Winnie Brinks, D-Grand Rapids, said.
Many of those complaints stem from alleged chronic staff shortages after a private company took over for unionized state workers three years ago. J2S is the private company that provides certified nurses and other care workers throughout the facility which is home to about 500 veterans. While many say problems at the home go back to well before J2S took over, complaints of failure to provide adequate staffing and to retain employees has plagued the company.
“It’s true all over Kent County when you get into nursing care, but here, it’s worse,” Kooyers said.
Changes came earlier this year when Gov. Rick Snyder replaced the top administration of the home.
“I think the people causing the communication blockage are gone,” Kooyers said.
Wednesday, 24 Hour News 8 learned that a new company will take over some of the functions of the facility. The private company is CareerStaff Unlimited based out of the east side of the state. That company will take over four of 12 units at the home starting in the next couple weeks, according to home administration.
The contract with J2S expires in October. The next contract will divide the home into three separate sections.
Redford, the new head of the Michigan Veterans Affairs Agency said the change is not necessarily a critique of J2S.
“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.
Those interested in the contract have until mid-June to submit a bid and, so far, J2S is not one of the six companies that have submitted a bid.
Wednesday, Redford was at the home for its Memorial Day commemoration during which flags were planted and the names of fallen veterans were remembered. Redford said that as a veteran, working to make sure the home honors those who have worn the cloth is the only thing that matters.
“We’re going to cooperate completely (with the AG’s investigation) because if there is evidence of criminal wrongdoing, we want it investigated fully and taking whatever steps are necessary to root that out,” he said after the event.
“People ask me how it’s going. I say it’s improving. We’re improving. We’re not fixed yet,” he continued. “When I talk with my fellow sailors and Marines and Army soldiers and airmen and coast guardsmen that are here, I ask, ‘What can we do to help?'”
Those who witnessed or endured mistreatment at the home can call a special number set up by the attorney general’s office at 1.800.24.ABUSE.