A plan to privatize nurses aides at a state-run veterans health care facility is drawing sharp criticism from unions as well as patients at the facility. At a Michigan Civil Service Commission (MCSC) hearing this week, Commissioners heard from a variety of speakers asking them to reverse their decision.
Don Slocum sought relief from the heat in the shade of tall trees outside the Grand Rapids Home for Veterans [GRHV] as he pondered losing people he considers his family.
The Korean War veteran and three-year resident of the state-owned home is unsettled by a plan to privatize the jobs of 171 resident care aides at the 758-bed retirement and nursing facility.
“For the life of me, I can’t see them getting rid of the caretakers they’ve got,” Slocum said. “They know each and every person that’s up there.”
Those aides are in line to be the next casualties of Michigan’s budget-cutting ax.
The move is another effort by Michigan Republicans to privatize as many state-provided services as possible to save money, $4.2 million annually in this case. Unfortunately, the money savings from this move may actually threaten the health of military veterans.
Tony Spallone told the commission he has lived at the home for more than two years after suffering health problems related to exposure to Agent Orange in Vietnam.
He described what he said were unsanitary practices by contracted resident care aides, such as throwing urine- and feces-stained sheets on clean floors.
“It’s bad enough we’re disabled and can’t go back to work,” Spallone said. “Now you want us to be thrown to the wolves.”
“I want good care,” he said. “I deserve good care,” and the state workers, “they’re not just caregivers, these are family.”
Union officials say two serious incidents involving patients and contract workers are the result of high turnover and lack of training among the contracted aides, who are paid no benefits and only about half as much as the $20.33 top hourly rate paid to state employees.
The recent incidents in question both involved contract workers:
“The state is allowing our veterans to be taken care of by untrained workers who are literally putting their lives in danger every day,” said Mark Williams, president of AFSCME Local 261 and a resident care aide at the home for more than 17 years. “It is a shameful way to treat them, and we won’t stay quiet about it.”
In the past month, contract workers are responsible for incidents in which a veteran suffered a broken neck as a result of improper lifting procedures and another veteran had a gastric tube pulled out of his stomach and was forced to eat solid foods against a doctor’s written orders, Williams said.
According to an MLive article, “The aides in Grand Rapids, represented by AFSCME Local 261, earn $15 to $20 an hour based on seniority to help feed, clothe and otherwise help residents. They also receive overtime as well as state pensions and health insurance, according to workers.” Contract workers make between $8.50 and $9.00 and receive no state-paid benefits. However, the state actually pays $15 and some of that is taken as profit by the company prividing the services, J2S Group Healthforce. They have had trouble filling shifts because of high turnover despite the fact that only 1/3 of the services provided at the home are performed by them.
MCSC commissioners heard from University of Michigan professor Roland Zullo who released a study early this year (pdf) that studied the impending privatization. In his study “Privatizing Resident Care Aides at the Grand Rapids Home for Veterans: Job Analysis and Policy Implications”, he had this to say:
Presently, GRHV contracts out for about one‐third of RCA staff. This experience offers lessons for anticipating changes in the operation if all RCAs are outsourced through a private provider. We can predict that turnover will accelerate, decreasing the quality of care for veterans, while increasing the chance of accidental death or injury. Moreover, the planned financial savings of $4.2 million annually will not likely be realized due to lower RCA productivity, higher training and recruitment costs, and overtime expenses.
The state may save $4.2 million a year on paper, but, as Dr. Zullo points out, it will compromise the health care of military veterans who live in the facility and, over time, may not actually save Michigan any money at all.
UAW Vice President Cindy Estrada made this statement:
The declining standards of care at the Grand Rapids veterans home show that privatization fails to deliver the ‘value for money’ that the Governor is seeking. Veterans and their families deserve better in this case – and in every case, Michigan families deserve the most efficient and effective use of their tax dollars.
Republicans love to crow about how much they revere our troops and veterans. But when money is on the line, that reverence seems to evaporate. They are willing to spend enormous amounts of money to send our citizens to war, but when they return, we have to scrimp on their care.