Always Skeptical of a Sen. Grassley Idea

In a media release several weeks ago, Senator Chuck Grassley said, “it appears that the standard of care and quality controls at many state veterans homes falls well short of those required by other government supported nursing homes.”  The statement was referencing the number of COVID deaths and infections in veterans homes across the country.

How many is many?  Grassley’s source for this information is media reports.  From the information provided by Grassley in footnotes, a handful of media reports were listed Although some media reports cite statistics provided by the government, the statistics used by Grassley are flawed.  The largest nursing home in most states are the states’ veterans homes.  For example, a veterans home such as Iowa’s, located in Marshalltown, serves four hundred patients.  What nursing home comes close to serving that many patients?  The government supported nursing homes referred to by Grassley include a vast number of homes with fewer than fifty patients.

Also, other ‘government supported nursing homes’ means those nursing homes, most of them privately owned, receiving federal Medicare and Medicaid supplements.

The Iowa Veterans Home in Marshalltown is not one of those facilities that falls short of requirements or expectations mentioned in Grassley’s letter to Denis R. McDonough, Secretary of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.  Prior to the Pandemic, I visited the IVH monthly to see a childhood friend who resides there.  The care, treatment, and respect he receives from the employees at that facility is exceptional.

The IVH is clean, sanitary, and well-managed by the supervisors and union employees I am in contact with on every visit.  There are no concerns that I have about the facility.  I have no concerns about my friend and fellow veterans.  However, at this time, visits are limited, non-contact, restricted, and brief due to the IVH’s attempts to keep COVID out of the buildings.

Yet, the message Senator Grassley wants you to hear is that state-operated nursing homes for veterans are not as good as civilian nursing homes.  Nor is the oversight and reporting to the federal Government Accounting Office as forthcoming.  This comes from a Republican official who has complained about the government overreaching into businesses and private lives.  His message now screams for new regulations and government oversight.

I am skeptical.  Personal experience with Senator Grassley has often led to showing that he has alternative motives for some of his concerns.  I am not very convinced that his statement is out of concern for veterans.  My belief is that he would like to see state-run veteran homes close or turn the facilities over to private corporations to operate.  The result, of course, would be breaking unions, and padding the pockets of corporate run nursing homes.

One of the media reports Grassley referred to in his letter was followed up by the same reporter writing about a nursing home in Iowa which was cited for violating ten federal regulations and eight state violations.  A resident had to call 911; staff were seen by a state inspector sleeping on the job; toxic mold was discovered in 80% of the building, including residents’ rooms; bedsores were left untreated; the facility had no building maintenance for almost a year; and a “woman’s breathing apparatus was found to be ‘plugged with hard, caked secretions’ from not being cleaned.”  State fines were proposed, but not imposed.  This could be the exemplar of what could come for veterans if state veteran homes were privatized.

Senator Grassley may have a sincere desire to be concerned about the care veterans receive.  However, that sense of feeling that he has a subliminal thought to break unions is what causes me to doubt his sincerity.  He’ll proudly show you his union card, but that’s a little like me showing you my Farm Bureau card from back when I was a member in order to obtain cheap health insurance.

“Though these facilities have implemented some Government Accountability Office recommendations,” Grassley writes, “recent media reports highlight additional oversight gaps that may have fueled the death toll among facility residents during the pandemic.”  He wrote this in his letter after the VA has implemented three of the four recommendations of the GOA.  The fourth recommendation is in the process of implementation.

Senator Grassley believes that our “veterans deserve the best possible care after giving so much for our country.”  I agree. I only want to make clear that when Senator Grassley seeks to improve oversight of veterans nursing homes in America, Iowa is the model, and he should take time to visit.  Basing decisions on hand-selected numbers and media marketing can be dangerous and damaging.

Marty Ryan has been a constituent of Chuck Grassley for far too many years.

This essay appeared first in a Fall issue of the Prairie Progressive, page 7, and later in December it was posted by Bleeding Heartland.

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