"I saw some disturbing trends" after loading a list of complaints into a spreadsheet, said Sen. Patrick Colbeck, R-Canton, chairman of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on State Police and Military Affairs. But he hasn't determined whether the neglect and other complaints are a result of the contractor or other "extenuating circumstances."
The subcommittee is also looking into how complaints are tracked and investigated and whether an outside party should be involved.
The state estimates it will save about $4 million a year after it laid off about 150 state nursing aides in March and turned the work over to J2S Group. Earlier this year, the Civil Service Commission approved the privatization deal after hearing complaints about the quality of care J2S provides from union members, family members and residents. J2S had earlier provided fill-in nursing assistant help at the home in which 500 veterans reside.
On Thursday, Democratic state Reps. Brandon Dillon and Winnie Brinks, both from Grand Rapids, said they want a state investigation into the quality of care at the home, which houses about 500 residents.
Nick Ciaramitaro, legislative director for AFSCME Council 25, which represented the workers who were laid off, said he presented the subcommittee with an extensive list of complaints three months ago and they were turned over to the Department of Military and Veterans Affairs, which runs the home, for responses. But department officials who testified Thursday about improvements to equipment and other positive changes did not address the complaints, he said.
The complaints, which range from neglect to theft to injury to residents, are expected to be addressed at the committee's next meeting, along with concerns about the complaint procedure.
"Most of these allegations are either false, or not directed at J2S," company spokesman John Truscott said Thursday. "This is nothing more than a union attempt to try to overturn a state policy of privatizing some of the work."
Dillon told the subcommittee a J2S worker put tape over a resident's mouth and ripped it off in "an act of despicable cruelty."
Truscott said the worker and the resident were "joking around, having fun" with the tape and the resident was laughing. Still, the worker was suspended by J2S because the play was inappropriate and the resident asked that the worker be put back on the job, Truscott said.
Lino Pretto, a member of the board of managers for the state's two veterans homes, said the Grand Rapids home is going through a transition as the new workers gain experience.
"It's going to be a little bit uncomfortable for a while," Pretto told the subcommittee. "People are not going to be happy with some of the things that occur, but we are working on it."