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Attorney General Schuette investigates veterans home

Jonathan Oosting
Detroit News Lansing Bureau

Lansing — Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette confirmed Wednesday he is investigating allegations of improper care at the Grand Rapids Home for Veterans, drawing criticism from Democrats who said he should have done so years ago.

The Republican attorney general’s Health Care and Fraud Division began its investigation on Feb. 23, according to his office, just days after release of a scathing state audit that found staff failed to properly investigate allegations of abuse and neglect at the home.

“The men and women who have served our country deserve the very best of care. They protected our country, and now we have the duty and responsibility to protect them,” Schuette said in a statement.

“If you, or someone you know, were a resident of the Home, or spent time visiting and witnessed potentially criminal misconduct, I encourage you to contact my office immediately.”

Democrats welcomed the probe but questioned why it took the attorney general so long to launch, pointing to their own calls for an investigation in 2013 and Schuette’s defense of the state in a 2011 lawsuit filed by a resident of the home.

State Democratic Party Chairman Brandon Dillon said it was the “height of hypocrisy” for Schuette to now “ride in on his white horse” and ask home residents to aid the investigation.

The 2013 lawsuit sought to stop further privatization of the Grand Rapids home, where a combination of state and contract workers care for more than 430 residents. The named plaintiff, Anthony Spallone, argued that he and fellow residents faced “significant injury, and certainly abuse and neglect at the hands of a private company.”

In defending the state’s partial privatization of the facility, Schuette said in a court brief that Spallone did not claim to have actually been injured or mistreated himself, and he noted that state employees had faced similar allegations at veterans homes.

“A lot of the abuse and neglect that’s been allowed to go on over the last five years is because he was the one who argued in court that veterans at the home had no right to seek relief from privatization of the direct care workers,” Dillon said.

A Schuette spokeswoman declined comment.

The Michigan Office of the Auditor General, in its February report, concluded that the state Veterans Affairs Agency did not ensure sufficient care services at the Grand Rapids Home for Veterans, a partially privatized facility with a combination of state and contract workers.

The “deeply troubling” audit prompted Gov. Rick Snyder to replace the head of the agency. Former Judge James Redford, who had been serving as Snyder’s chief legal counsel, took over as director in late February.

“The department and agency are fully cooperating with this investigation and will assist the Attorney General’s Office in any way we can,” Redford said Wednesday in a joint statement with Michigan Department of Military and Veterans Affairs Director Major Gen. Gregory Vadnais.

State auditors determined staff at the veterans home did not properly respond to resident complaints and did not properly administer prescription medications.

J2S Group Health Force, the private contractor hired to provide residential care aides, failed to adequately staff the home, and workers compromised residents’ safety by failing to conduct required location and alarm checks, according to the report.

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