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Leadership shakeup at state veterans’ agency after audit unveils problems at veterans home

Lindsey Smith
Michigan Radio

Governor Rick Snyder has replaced the director of Michigan's veterans’ affairs agency after an audit uncovered problems at a state-run nursing home for veterans.

Jeff Barnes, who led the agency for three years, resigned Friday. State officials said Barnes didn’t want to be a distraction as efforts were made to resolve the issues. Barnes, a former Army officer, previously was the governor's deputy chief of staff and his former campaign manager.

An audit released Friday morning said workers at the Grand Rapids Home for Veterans falsely claimed they were checking on patients, failed to properly investigate allegations of abuse and neglect, and took too long to fill prescriptions.

Snyder says the audit findings are "deeply troubling."

James Redford, Snyder's chief legal counsel and a former judge, will lead the agency for now.

“I pledge to you each hour of each day I will be guided by my Navy and Marine Corp core values of honor, courage and commitment,” Redford said.

Michigan lawmakers forced the department to privatize nursing assistants a few years ago to save money. The audit found the contractor did not meet the required staffing needs 81% of the time during four sampled months. Officials admit it’s been hard to retain workers at low wages.

Resident Steven Lenoir says turnover of contracted staff seems high.

“They got to keep the staffing. They’re not keeping staffing. The pay rate is low,” he said. A company official would not disclose how much money staff members make an hour.

“When I first got here, nine years ago, this place was full,” Lenoir said, “But now everything went downhill and some of them don’t want to come back because of the situation that’s going on now.” There were more than 700 veterans living at the home in 2012. Now there are fewer than 400.

Leslie Shanlian is CEO of the Michigan Veteran Health System, which oversees the home. She says she knew there was a problem with how staff handled complaints as soon as she started last October.

“I just couldn’t believe it would take three weeks to get a resolution to a concern or compliant,” Shanlian said. Now these complaints will be investigated within 24-hours, Shanlian says.

Shanlian says contracted employees who falsified reports no longer work at the facility. But she says there are still some, she wasn’t sure how many, state employees who do still work at the home.  

“The former director of that department did a lesser form of discipline than what I would expect. You can’t discipline someone for doing something wrong twice. That happened four months before I got here,” Shanlian said. From now on, she says, falsifying records will be an offense that’ll result in termination.

Lindsey Smith is a Peabody Award-winning journalist currently leading the station's Amplify Team. She previously served as Michigan Public's Morning News Editor, Investigative Reporter and West Michigan Reporter.
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