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Judge Blocks Michigan Veterans Home Privatization Scheme

by Clyde Weiss  |  October 20, 2011

Employees of the Grand Rapids Home for Veterans
WE DO IT BETTER! Employees of the Grand Rapids Home for Veterans – members of Local 261 (Michigan Council 25) – demonstrated recently to prevent the privatization of their facility. A judge last week agreed to block the state’s plan, citing the health and safety needs of more than 650 residents who depend on the care provided by the state employees. (Photo by Ronnie Skorupski)

A judge’s ruling last week blocking the privatization of a Michigan veterans’ home did far more than save the jobs of 170 employees. Mark Williams, president of Local 261 (AFSCME Council 25), says the decision preserves a higher quality of care for more than 650 residents who depend on those workers every day.

“This issue has always been about the quality of the care we provide,” says Williams, a resident certified nurse aide who has worked at the Grand Rapids Home for Veterans for 17 years. “We do the work better than anyone. We are sometimes the only family these veterans have.”

That family would have been broken up earlier this month had the state prevailed in its effort to turn the facility over to a private contractor, J2S Group of Grand Rapids. The privateer currently supplies some of the nursing aides, but it would have run the entire operation starting Oct. 1 under a 2012 budget plan the state claimed would save $4.2 million a year.

In her ruling blocking the privatization scheme, Ingham County Circuit Judge Paula Manderfield declared that the home’s residents would suffer “irreparable injury” if the privatization plan went into effect. Judge Manderfield suggested that the home make cuts, “in other areas, or perhaps they can get some more money from the state.”

“It’s sad, for me, that it took getting a judge to step up and say, ‘This is wrong and I’m not going to allow this to continue,’” says Williams. The commission took no action, forcing opponents to go to court. Tony Spallone, a Vietnam veteran who lives at the home, was the lead plaintiff.

Spallone alleged that the private contractor’s employees were responsible for improper care at the facility. He said the state workers provide better care. They are “not just caregivers, these are family,” he testified at a hearing before the Michigan Civil Service Commission.

Williams agrees. He contends the state was “more worried about money than they were about the quality of care.” Care aides hired by J2S Group are paid less than those working directly for the state, and also receive no benefits. That has resulted in less-experienced employees, high turnover and more injuries to the residents.

“You can’t just farm out that work to the cheapest bidder,” adds Williams. “You get what you pay for. The veterans who live at the home deserve quality care, and it finally took a court ruling to make sure they get it.”

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