Veterans Say Privatization Endangers Them

     LANSING, Mich. (CN) - Privatization of the Grand Rapids Home for Veterans endangers more than 500 of its residents, veterans say in a class action. The state laid off 170 workers on Oct. 1 and replaced them with a private contractor whose workers have a wretched record of abuse, including one who "broke two of the fingers of a veteran, and actually bragged about it," the vets say.
     Lead plaintiff Anthony Spallone sued the State of Michigan Department of Military and Veterans' Affairs in Ingham County Court, on behalf of himself and more than 500 other veterans.
     Spallone says that in an ostensible quest to save money, the state laid off 170 resident care aides and replaced them with a private contractor that has a terrible track record, including leaving veterans in "urine-soaked beds for hours on end."
     The state hired J2S Group, which formerly provided only supplemental nursing care, backing up state workers. But on Oct. 1, Michigan handed over "the entire nursing assistant operation to the private company," which the veterans say "has a poor, even dangerous track record of care."
     J2S Group is not named as a defendant.
     But the veterans say J2S workers have been accused of a litany of abuse, including ripping a feeding tube out of a resident's stomach, breaking the fingers of another resident and bragging about it, and that one "invalid veteran ... fell and broke his neck which a contract CNA, who was supposed to be caring for him, walked out of the room."
     Spallone, a Vietnam veteran, says he has seen residents fall more than 15 times while in the care of contract employees.
     The Grand Rapids Home for veterans is funded by the State of Michigan General Fund, residents' fees, Medicare and the U.S Department of Veterans Administration. The center employs 500 nurses and aides to provide care to 600 residents and their families.
     Resident care aides assist the veterans in eating, bathing, dressing, social activities and emergency medical care when needed.
     J2S aides "have been known to abuse residents," the complaint states.
     "One contract employee would leave residents in urine-soaked beds. Residents have been bruised and have broken bones as a result of the negligence of J2S contract employees." (Citations to seven exhibits omitted.)
     "An invalid veteran fell off the bed and broke his neck, after a contract CNA left him on the bed, unsecure, and left the room," the class claims.
     "A contract CNA fed a resident by mouth, when there were specific instructions, (including a sign above his bed) indicating that the veteran was not to be fed by mouth. Later, the contract CNA pulled the feeding tube out of the veteran's stomach - the veteran was hospitalized; ...
     "A contract CNA broke the fingers of a veteran, and bragged about it."
     Spallone claims J2S Group contract workers has dropped veterans repeatedly, injured them, left them "in urine-soaked beds for hours on end," and that J2S workers were accuszed of "literally walking off during their shift, never to return that shift and abandoning the veterans."
     The state replaced 171 nurses aides with private contractors last Saturday, according to the complaint. Spallone says that one former J2S worker stated in a deposition, that "there are some veterans who refuse treatment and service by the contract CNAs from J2S Group. She discusses how, on average, 10 out of the 15 persons scheduled to work on a shift would call off, and the other 5 would be hours late."
     This worker stated that her entire training consisted of shadowing another worker for 8 hours, that many J2S workers have no experience in nursing care, and that J2S provides "little to no oversight" of its workers.
     Spallone seeks an injunction and restraining order. He is represented by Richard Mack, with Miller Cohen, of Detroit.