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Veterans’ home bills spark concerns about privatizing care

Changes could be in store for Michigan’s veterans’ services. A House and Senate joint committee heard testimony Monday about a package of bills that would create a new Michigan Veterans’ Facility Authority.

The Authority would oversee new veteran facilities, and eventually, lawmakers hope, the entire Michigan Veteran Health System would go under the umbrella of the Authority.

The legislation comes after an audit of the Grand Rapids Home for Veterans last February revealed persistent issues like staffing shortages and not following through on abuse complaints.

State Senator Margaret O’Brien (R-Portage) is the chair of the Veterans, Military Affairs and Homeland Security committee. She said the legislation likely still has a ways to go.

“We want to make sure that if we were to move this forward, this is really going to be about ensuring long-term quality care for our veterans,” she said. “So we’re in no rush to move it.”

One of the concerns about care for the veterans is allowing privatization of staff at the facilities. Mark Williams is with a local branch of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, a union that represents workers at the veterans’ home in Grand Rapids. He said privatizing staff could lead to poor care.

“That consistent quality care is something that you can’t put a price tag on. You can’t diminish in any way,” he said. “Those things are important. Again when I find things about lists quality of care farther down the list - that bothers me.”

Sen. O’Brien said this concern is on the list of things she will be looking into before a committee vote. “I’m open to any that’s going to make sure we have quality care workers,” she said. “So there were a lot of ideas thrown out today. I’ve made a lot of notes, wrote down a lot more questions I have, that will be one of them I’ll be looking into.”

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