Hearings begin into Grand Rapids vets home issues

Posted at 4:55 PM, Mar 03, 2016
and last updated 2016-03-03 18:29:23-05

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. - Formal hearings began Thursday into the Auditor General's report that found abuse and neglect of veterans at the Grand Rapids Home for Veterans.

The hearings Thursday focused on breaking the cycle of having issues at the facility and how to hold contractors and state agencies accountable to get the best care for veterans.

Four committees with a total of 25 members took part in the hearing Thursday including: Oversight and Ethics; Military and Veterans Affairs; Senate Oversight; and Senate Veterans, Military Affairs and Homeland Security committees.

The room was packed with many observers, including member veterans at the GRHV, though no public comment was allowed. Public comment will be allowed at future hearings held by each of the four committees separately.

Following the Auditor General's team presenting their audit that investigated a two-year period at the GRHV, those in attendance primarily heard from the newly appointed Interim Director of the Michigan Veterans Affairs Agency James Redford and the current GRHV Chief of Staff and Michigan Veteran Health System CEO Leslie Shanlian.

Shanlian, appointed late last October, was not in charge of the home during the time frame the audit covered.  Many of the issues highlighted in the report, like slow prescription refills and missed bed and fall checks, were blamed on critically low-staffing at the GRHV.

Thursday, Redford and Shanlian testified they are working to hire more staff, raise wages, and train staff on new systems, like how to report allegations of abuse and neglect, all to address that critical problem.

"Together we will fix this," said Redford. "We will have patient-centered care, we will have an engaged and caring staff who is accountable, and we will have accountable and effective leadership and management, and at every level."

"Everyone on this team will do all that is in our power to assure the safety, well-being, and quality of life of those whom we have the privilege of serving," he said.

They also said they will make sure those employees are properly trained as they work to shift the focus of the veterans' care to "patient-centered care." Shanlian acknowledged when she took on her new role there were several ingrained, systemic issues. She said she feels the agency is working at "warp speed" to make improvements.

"There was a lack of leadership, a lack of accountability, lack of polices and procedures," said Shanlian. "So those are all items that we’re looking at and have made a lot of progress on already.”

In order to monitor corrections taking place at the GRHV, the Auditor General's office will conduct a follow-up audit within the next 12 to 15 months.