Lawmakers seek to allay concerns over vets home problems
St. Paul, Minn. — (AP) - Minnesota legislators are promising veterans they'll get to the bottom of ongoing problems at the Minneapolis Veterans Home, where three men died last month.
Gov. Pawlenty ordered the state Health Department to begin monitoring daily operations at the home Tuesday. At a news conference Wednesday morning, Democratic lawmakers supported that decision.
The lawmakers say they've made countless attempts over the years to get to the bottom of recurring problems at the home.
Sen. Linda Berglin, DFL-Minneapolis, says the problem isn't lack of money -- she points out that last year the Legislature boosted funding for the Minneapolis home $4 million to hire new staff.
Berglin and other lawmakers say they'll hold more hearings soon to further probe the ongoing problems.
Starting Wednesday, the Health Department will closely monitor care given at the 418-bed Minneapolis Veterans Home.
Two of the men who died were in hospice care; one was given penicillin and the other morphine sulfate, when they were allergic to the drugs. Investigators did not determine whether the medication errors caused the deaths.
The third man was a diabetic who died after five nurses improperly monitored his plunging blood sugar, and one gave him a medication that lowered his blood sugar further.
None of the men were identified in two investigation reports from the department's Office of Health Facility Complaints, dated Monday and given to the Minneapolis home Tuesday. The home was cited for three rules violations in connection with the deaths.
"We're very concerned about the care of the veterans at the home," state Health Commissioner Dianne Mandernach said. "The governor ordered this action, and I fully agree."
The governor's order was also prompted by inspections over two years that found many infractions and a threat by federal officials to cut off about $7 million in payments for veterans' care at the home, she said.
Within two weeks, the home must hire a long-term care consultant to assume responsibility for operating the home, at least for a time, Mandernach said.
In addition, Pawlenty plans to issue an executive order to set up a Veterans Long Term Care Commission to determine how the state's system of five veterans homes should be administered and operated.
"There are a lot of unanswered questions. We just made these decisions this afternoon and we're still fine-tuning everything," Mandernach said Tuesday.
Operation of the homes was transferred from the state Department of Veterans Affairs to a new Minnesota Veterans Homes Board in 1988, after the state investigated several deaths at the Minneapolis home and inspectors cited it for 36 violations.
In December, state inspectors cited the home for 34 infractions found during their annual inspection. The year before, when inspectors found 27 violations, the governing board fired the home's four top administrators and hired a consultant to help fix the problems.
On Tuesday, Board Chairman Jeff Johnson said, "I welcome the action the governor has taken. I had hoped we were in a better place, but it looks like we'll take all the help we can get."
In two letters Friday to the Minneapolis home's administrator, Bob Wikan, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs said it "most likely will take steps" to end daily payments for the care of veterans - about 20 percent of the home's revenue.
The home has more than half of the 598 nursing home beds in the state system, and the VA pays about $14 million a year to help with care in all five homes.
The action was threatened because a separate VA inspection last November found 33 standards for care that were not met or partly met, and federal officials were dissatisfied when the home did not show evidence of how it had corrected those deficiencies.
While the state doesn't know whether the medication errors killed the two men who were dying in hospice care, it found that a series of nursing failures led to the death of a diabetic veteran after episodes of low blood sugar over more than 30 hours.
(Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)