Empower Wisconsin | Nov. 11, 2022
By M.D. Kittle
MADISON — As Gov. Tony Evers continues to celebrate his re-election victory on Tuesday, one of his biggest failures looms large this Veterans Day.
The state-run Veterans Home at Union Grove has been a house of horrors for hundreds who selflessly served their country. An outgoing member of the Legislature’s Joint Audit Committee says it’s time for a deep dive review of the skilled nursing facility.
“Now, post-election, I would hope that this would not be seen as a political gotcha but as a good-faith audit to find out what the issues are and to make things better,” said state Sen. Dale Kooyenga (R-Brookfield). “The status quo simply is not acceptable.”
Kooyenga, an Iraq War veteran, is a member of the nine-member Joint Legislative Audit Committee. He did not seek re-election. His term ends in early January.
The Union Grove facility was recently slapped with six new violations in its annual federal inspection. That brings the total number of violations to 76 since 2017, the vast majority of the infractions on the Evers administration’s watch.
As the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported last week, the latest violations included a failure to thoroughly investigate an allegation of abuse or report it to state regulators. Investigators found staff didn’t do enough to prevent residents from falling and did not properly train nursing aides.
“The facility was also cited for giving residents potentially unnecessary medications, including antipsychotics − which have long been the focus of scrutiny for their misuse in nursing homes as a chemical restraint to subdue residents with behavioral issues,” the newspaper reported.
Conditions have deteriorated over the past couple of years, with Evers’ Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary Mary Kolar blaming the problems on a severe staffing shortage. But the latest federal inspection finds the administration failed to apply for federal finding set aside for veterans homes to assist with staffing.
Documents recently obtained by the MacIver Institute detailed more incidents of mismanagement at the Wisconsin Department of Veterans Affairs under Evers. Alarmingly, Union Grove and the other state-run veterans homes are bleeding money and could be insolvent within five years — in spite of millions of dollars in federal pandemic aid.
Fed up families are moving their loved ones out of Union Grove. According to MacIver, the census at the veterans homes at King and Union Grove are about half their capacity and well below the level required to sustain operations. Yet even with contract staff, forced overtime is still required. Residents, their families and employees complain of overworked staff, in some cases so exhausted they have passed out at work or behind the wheel of their vehicles on the way to reporting for duty.
The maltreatment at Union Grove has proved deadly.
In one case, Navy veteran Randy Krall was so dehydrated when he was rushed to a hospital that doctors had a difficult time getting a urine sample to diagnose him, according to the Journal Sentinel. His medical chart showed he hadn’t had water for much of the day. When Krall’s condition deteriorated a few weeks later at the veterans nursing home, no one called to alert the family — contrary to facility policy. A Veterans Home nurse contacted Krall’s wife only after he died.
In one of two abuse-related violations, a nursing aide earlier this year flipped over a resident to clean his genital area, according to the newspaper. The aide ignored instructions on how to carefully handle the patient or ask for help from a second aide.
“You would think people who have taken time, their resources and so much of themselves to serve would be treated better,” Kooyenga said.