As predicted, military veterans in Michigan are suffering, the price paid for the Republican privatization steamroller (updated)


Back in 2011, reports began to emerge that conditions in the Grand Rapids Home for Veterans had deteriorated after part of the staff had been privatized. According to reporting by The Detroit News, “contract workers [were] 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”.

Despite this, Michigan Republicans continued their efforts to privatize the entire staff.

The move was fought by AFSCME, the union representing the healthcare workers in the home and it was temporarily put on hold by an Ingham County judge. However, in 2013, the plan moved forward and more than 140 unionized caregivers were let go. Republicans claimed that the move would save millions of dollars and that they had “added assurances that contract workers meet certain quality standards”.

A new audit report issued this week shows that the fears expressed by AFSCME and others during the fight to stop the privatization were well-founded and, indeed, have come to pass. Here are some of the more egregious things spelled out in the audit (which you can read in full HERE):

  • Mandatory checks to be sure members living at the GRHV were present were not done 43% of the time.
  • Mandatory checks of the fall-alarm system were not done a full third (33%) of the time.
  • The mandatory number of staff on duty was not maintained 81% of the time.
  • Non-narcotic prescriptions were refilled too early for reimbursement, costing the facility up to $186,000.
  • Non-narcotic prescriptions were refilled too late, meaning that the Home could not ensure that the medications were administered appropriately.
  • 25 and 59% of the Home members’ mandated comprehensive care plans were not completed timely and sufficiently, respectively.
  • No inventory system was in place to keep track of $2.7 million worth of non-narcotic prescriptions dispensed each year.
  • Nearly a half million dollars of non-narcotic prescription claims were not followed up on and another almost half million dollars worth of prescriptions were never charged to the members’ insurance companies.
  • 91 complaints were filed by members and all were reported to the involved departments’ manager in violation of standard protocol, “severely compromising the controls inherent within an effective complaint process.
  • 38 of the complaints involved abuse and neglect situations. Nine of them were never reported to the director of nursing as required.
  • A quarter of the 91 complaints were responded to late and the Home did not maintain a tracking log of complaints that were filed.
  • Around $168,000 of members’ funds were not properly dispersed after they were discharged or had died and, when they were dispersed, they were dispersed as much as seven months late in some cases.

In other words, they got what they paid for.

Republicans are now acting as if this was not just predictable but predicted:

Rep. Tom Barrett, R-Potterville, chairman of the House Committee on Military and Veterans Affairs, said he is “outraged to learn that our veterans are not receiving even the most basic of their care needs.”

Yes, imagine that. You carve over $4 million annually from the veterans’ home’s annual budget and things got worse. Who could have predicted THAT (other than just about anyone who wasn’t a Republican in 2011-2013)?

This is one of many, many clear cut and provable examples of the failure of the Republican steamroller aimed at privatizing every government service possible. School kids, prisoners, veterans, nursing homes, and mental health patients all face or are already experiencing the horrendous outcomes of shifting our tax dollars to for-profit corporations. It doesn’t take much pondering to realize that, when profits are on the line, corners will be cut and the service recipients will pay the price. The thing all these constituencies have in common is that they lack a significant political voice and, thus, are victimized by the systems in place to protect and care for them.

This is one of Gov. Snyder’s legacies: the harm of vulnerable Michiganders to enrich private corporations. From prisoners being fed inedible food to Detroit school kids being given scandalously inadequate education and to elderly military veterans being cared for in tragically poorly-run facilities, the verdict is in on privatization.

And don’t forget, Gov. Snyder’s current budget proposal has the privatization of state-provided mental health services included in it.

Republican State Rep. Holly Hughes told the Detroit Free Press, “We will get to the bottom of this and demand accountability from the people responsible.”

I would suggest that she hit the ladies room and look in the mirror.

UPDATE: Another Snyder administration official is falling on their sword to protect the governor from paying any sort of political price for his failed policies. Jeff Barnes, the Director of the Michigan Veterans Affairs Agency, has resigned over this scandal. Not surprisingly, Barnes had no medical facility experience before his appointment in 2013. This is the same situation as with Dan Wyant, the DEQ chief who resigned in the wake of the poisoning of Flint’s drinking water with a powerful neurotoxin. Like Barnes, Wyant had no previous experience in the field the department he headed was in charge of.

This resignation does nothing, of course, to halt the inexorable progress of the Republican privatization steamroller. Only voters can do that.