11 Charged at Grand Rapids Home for Veterans

Published by RP Legal Group
July 31, 2017

11 Charged with Felonies in Connection with Problems at Grand Rapids Home for Veterans

Felony charges have been filed in Kent County against 11 former employees of the Grand Rapids Home for Veterans after a 2016 state audit showed staffing shortages and mishandling of abuse complaints at the home.

Attorney General Bill Schuette announced the charges, which were filed in Kent County District Court Monday morning, against 11 people who allegedly falsified medical records of patients by saying they had done room checks that hadn’t been done. In his report, Schuette said there was not enough evidence to support charges of abuse or neglect of the patients at the veterans home.

If found guilty, the 11 people face up to four years in prison and a $5,000 fine. Those charged include certified nursing assistants employed by the private contractor J2S: Tyisha Toliver, 40, Doris Penny, 59, Lolitta Jackson, 39, Emina Kahriman, 53, Roconda Singleton, 39, Sequoyah Thomas, 23, all of Grand Rapids, Eric Anderson, 59, of Holland, Jasmine Ferrer, 27, of Wyoming, Cary Gerencer, 52, of Sand Lake, Sheryl Hillyer, 62, of Lansing, and Michelle Longmire, 49, of Muskegon.

The state Auditor General’s report on the veterans home showed that staff members reported doing 100% of required room checks, but video surveillance showed that only 43% of checks were done and that staffing shortages ran as high as 22 per day by J2S, the private contractor at the home. The report also showed that staff mishandled prescription distribution.

The Attorney General’s Health Care Fraud Division has been investigating allegations of improper care at the state-run home since shortly after the release of a 2016 auditor general’s report that documented a range of problems there.

Care by nursing assistants was privatized at the facility in 2013 as a cost-cutting measure, but the home was chronically understaffed, the report said. And 90% of the abuse and neglect complaints the auditor surveyed were not forwarded to the nursing director, as required, the report said.

Gov. Rick Snyder ordered a shake-up in the wake of the report, removing his former campaign manager, Jeff Barnes, as director of the Michigan Veteran Affairs Agency and putting his chief legal counsel, James Robert Redford, in charge. The Legislature also passed and Snyder signed a number of bills last year creating the Michigan Veterans Facility Authority. The new authority could issue bonds to improve or replace veterans facilities and subjected veterans’ facilities in the state to audits.

Redford said the home since has increased staffing and instituted additional checks on reporting requirements. Nursing services are still privatized, but by two different companies, MAXIM and CareerStaff Unlimited.

“The safety and well-being of all those we have the privilege of serving is of paramount concern to MVAA staff, and we are taking all possible measures to make certain we are fulfilling these responsibilities,” Redford said in a statement.

The filing of charges doesn’t necessarily end the investigation.

“We will continue to aggressively follow up on any new complaints of abuse or neglect of veterans at the home,” Schuette said in a statement.

But Democrats said Schuette, a potential candidate for governor in 2018, was a “total hypocrite,” with his announcement. He defended the state in a 2011 lawsuit by a veteran who sued to try and stop the privatization of the staff at the nursing home and refused to investigate complaints at the home after Democrats in the House of Representatives visited the home and called on him to look into the issue in June of 2013.

“He had a number of opportunities to make sure the abuse never happened,” said Brandon Dillon, chairman of the Michigan Democratic Party. “He’s trying to sweep his own incompetence under the rug. He did nothing until he was forced to act when the Auditor General’s report came out.”

State Rep. Winnie Brinks, D-Grand Rapids, said she’s optimistic about the changes that have been made at the veterans’ home, but disappointed that it took so long for improvements to occur.

“It’s really taken a long time for Gov. Snyder and Schuette to take these complaints seriously,” she said. “Politicians always like to talk about honoring those who have served. But they failed to do so.”

This article first appeared in the Detroit Free Press