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After Dropped Lawsuit in 2011, Nursing Home for Veterans Finally Answering for Years of Abuse & Neglect

In 2011, veteran Anthony Spallone of the Grand Rapids Home for Veterans took the lead on filing a lawsuit against the Grand Rapids, Michigan nursing home, alleging that the plan to privatize the facility would lead to disaster for him and his fellow residents. At the time, Michigan’s governor, Rick Snyder, stated that privatization was in the facility’s best interests and that state-employed nursing aides should be replaced by cheaper, contracted employees from a company called J2. Dedicated aides who spent more time than any other employee with Grand Rapids Home for Veterans residents would be cast aside to make room for aides from J2, a company with a history of providing poor care. Privatization went ahead and as predicted, residents at the Grand Rapids Home for Veterans suffered. Anthony Spallone’s lawsuit against the facility was dropped.

Worst Fears Realized
In 2013, Michigan Representative Winnie Brinks began pushing an act that would address better care for residents of the Grand Rapids Home for Veterans. She, along with 2 fellow congressmen, were shocked by what they witnessed during a visit to the facility. The privatization had indeed played a part in the decline of the care and conditions there. It was as if everything Anthony Spallone had tried to prevent in 2011 had come to pass.

This July Michigan’s Attorney General, criminally charged 11 J2 employees working for the nursing home for filing false records, despite pushing for privatization in 2011. Specifically, aides were charged with charting that they checked on the whereabouts of patients and verified their fall alarms were working when they hadn’t. Early last year the Michigan Office of the Auditor General started looking into the facility and through reviewing documents and and viewing surveillance footage, were able to provide proof that aides were falsely charting well-being and fall alarm checks. Specifically, they noted that charts reflected they checked on patients 100% of the time, when in reality the rate was 43%. Falsified charts also said fall alarms were checked 96% of the time, while the actual rate was 33%. A lawsuit last year also led to criminal charges against an aide who abused a resident with dementia by pushing his wheelchair into a desk at a nurses’ station. The incident was also caught on surveillance video.

For Anthony Spallone and Rep. Brinks, the news that the facility is finally having to answer for nursing home abuse and neglect is not surprising. After years of arguing that veterans deserved better, it is a relief that authorities are finally taking action, but heartbreaking to know that years of unrecognized abuse and neglect occurred without any state intervention.

In a statement, the Michigan Veterans Affairs Agency Director said that they have taken action to correct the issues found during the investigation, including using two separate aide staffing agencies and having nursing directors randomly verify records and locations of residents.

What is Nursing Home Privatization?
Privatization occurs when state-run facilities such as nursing homes, prisons, and other traditionally government-owned entities turn over ownership to private businesses or owners. This is usually done  to reduce costs and trim already tight state budgets. The arguments against a turnover are numerous. Employees of the state are driven out for private employees that are often paid less and worked more, private businesses are given control over nursing homes that receive state and federal funding (Medicaid and Medicare), and the obviously counterintuitive idea of allowing facilities whose mission is supposed to be to provide quality, compassionate care to be put in the hands of for-profit business owners. Also, as studies have shown, changing nursing home ownership has not always been in the best interest of its residents. Specifically, the more times a nursing home changes owners, the higher the number of violations they have been found to have.

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