Scathing audit triggers movement at GR veterans home

Apr 18, 2016

Back in February, a state audit revealed serious deficiencies in care, staffing and record keeping at the state run Grand Rapids Home for Veterans. We talk with the recently appointed interim director of Michigan’s Department of Veterans’ Affairs, James Redford.

The Grand Rapids Home for Veterans
Credit Courtesy photo / Michigan Department of Veterans’ Affairs

Efforts are underway to improve operations at the state run Grand Rapids Home for Veterans. In February, a Michigan auditor’s report revealed shoddy practices including the failure to monitor residents, understaffing, and improper dispensing of pharmaceuticals. In recent years, the state has outsourced nursing assistants at the facility to a private health service provider, J2S group. Critics say the episode is more evidence that privatization is poor policy that doesn’t work.  

Current State talks with James Redford, who was appointed Michigan’s interim Director of Veterans’ Affairs shortly after the auditor’s report.


How are problems of under staffing being addressed?

“We’re using the J2S contractors in a more efficient, meaningful way; together with adding contract amendments to get the wage that we’re paying to the staff at more competitive rate that exists now in Grand Rapids. We’re also authorizing the contractor to use utilize two other outside contractors to help supplement their staff. We expect to be issuing in the near future what’s called an RFP, or request for proposal, for potential bidders for the contract moving forward. The contract extends until September 30 of this year.” -- James Redford

On the revelation that patients were only being checked on 43 percent of the time they should have been

“They’re alarming, and completely unacceptable. I’ve been saying that since February 19, and continue to. We’re addressing it by educating our staff, holding our staff accountable, and having more frequent training. We’re making sure the individuals are correctly and accurately entering in the records what is taking place. Our staff have been notified that false record entries is a zero defect that will not be accepted. It’s grounds for an immediate termination. We’ve also implemented electronic medical record systems to bring more technology into the picture.” — Redford

On the mishandling of medication at the home

“What needs to happen - and has happened - is we’ve purchased what is called Pyxis machines. They’re devices which you would probably see in most commercial or private nursing facilities. They will individually prepare the disbursement of medications for each individual, and have a tracking system in place in each part of the facility. Those are on-station and are being implemented now.” — Redford

What has been the toughest part to reform?

“The toughest part is just changing and empowering our staff to make sure that they understand the 150 percent commitment that each of us is required to take care of those who have worn the cloth of our nation each day. Every person at the home is responsible for providing quality care and leadership; whether you’re the person handing out trays of food to one of these heroes, or you’re a person who happens to be the interim director of the agency. It’s a team effort and it’s leadership. We’re expecting everyone of our staff to be a part of the team that’s going to lead the way to make sure we make appropriate improvements.” — Redford

Will these reforms change the minds of critics of privatization of health services?

“I can’t speak what is going to change anyone’s mind other than myself. I can’t get inside another individual’s head, obviously. I do think we have to look at all the data, all the options - and we have to consider what’s best when we’re fulfilling our responsibilities of providing the services that we’re required to as parts of state government.” — Redford