Rural veterans' homes received smaller write-ups

ST. PAUL - Two rural Minnesota veterans' homes violated state policies last year, but neither the Silver Bay nor the Fergus Falls home infractions were as serious as highly publicized Minneapolis problems.

ST. PAUL - Two rural Minnesota veterans' homes violated state policies last year, but neither the Silver Bay nor the Fergus Falls home infractions were as serious as highly publicized Minneapolis problems.

State leaders insisted that deaths at the Minneapolis Veterans' Home were isolated, but reports show state health officials also flagged homes in Silver Bay and Fergus Falls for infractions. The deficiencies found at those veterans' homes were less severe and haven't drawn nearly the response issued earlier this week by Gov. Tim Pawlenty.

On Wednesday, the Republican governor ordered a team of Health Department officials to oversee operations at the Minneapolis home. The rare measure was taken following a report that three purportedly neglected veterans died there last year.

Pawlenty, along with others close to the controversy, said incidents at the Minneapolis home were unique.

"The other four (homes) could be considered models of the industry," said Jeff Johnson, chairman of the Minnesota Veterans' Homes Board of Directors.


A look at 2006 inspection reports from homes in Fergus Falls, Hastings, Luverne and Silver Bay revealed that while none accumulated the amount of red flags as Minneapolis, two of them were not without citations from the state. Three of the 10 deficiencies uncovered by the Health Department last year stemmed from findings at the Silver Bay location on Lake Superior's North Shore.

According to Health Department inspection documents, the Silver Bay home was cited for failure to provide social service interventions in a guardianship issue, providing unnecessary drug dosages and not having a plan in place to monitor staff members after a verbal assault incident.

None of the three marks resulted in harm to residents, said home Administrator Michael Bond.

"We're different than Minneapolis," he said, noting that the size of his 87-bed facility allows for more personalized care. "It's easier to manage."

Bond was quick to point out that all three deficiencies were corrected at the home and later cleared by the state.

Minnesota Veterans' Home Public Affairs Director Sandy Larson said that the circumstances surrounding the Minneapolis deaths were isolated and won't result in procedural changes at the state's other veterans' homes.

Larson said she was not aware of any patients or families requesting transfers out of Minneapolis to other veterans' homes.

The Fergus Falls facility - at 85 beds, also much smaller than Minneapolis' 418-bed center - received two citations for minor incidents. One found that cutting boards in the facility's kitchen were worn out, in violation of Health Department code. The other was because staff failed to schedule one patient's annual dental exam.


No infractions were found in 2006 at the Hastings and Luverne facilities.

While Bond said that his facility took very seriously the charges levied against it, he's also learned that the findings can lead to positive change.

For instance, he said it wasn't until Silver Bay was flagged for distributing unnecessary drug dosages that home staff there realized the use of psychoactive drugs had been increasing over the years. Administration and employees reviewed practices after receiving the alert and brought medication levels down to the minimum effective dosage, Bond said.

The result has "substantially decreased" the dosages given to veterans' without impacting behaviors, he said.

Since news spread of the deaths at the Minneapolis home, questions as to whether the homes are operating under proper oversight models have arisen.

"Something structurally is wrong," said Rep. Al Juhnke, DFL-Willmar, who chairs a House veterans' committee.

Johnson, a Pawlenty appointee, said he welcomes "with open arms" the supervision in Minneapolis, but believes he and the board have been effective leaders.

In coming days, legislative committees will begin reviewing reports from the Minneapolis home.


Sen. Jim Vickerman, DFL-Tracy, said the deaths have left the Senate veterans' committee chairman shaken, but he said he's not ready to jump to conclusions.

"At this point," Vickerman said, "I don't know who to point fingers at."

Rep. Mary Ellen Otremba, DFL-Long Prairie, said legislators sympathize with veterans' and their families. Her late husband was a veteran.

"It's a sad day," said Otremba, who leads a House committee handling funding for veterans' programs.

Pawlenty established a Veterans' Long Term Care Commission to handle the Minneapolis problem. He and Health Commissioner Dianne Mandernach ordered a consultant to take over day-to-day responsibility at the Minneapolis home.

"That's a good move," said Rep. Lyle Koenen, who chairs the House Veterans' Affairs committee.

"I agree with what the governor's done so far," the Clara City DFLer added.

State Capitol Bureau reporter Scott Wente contributed to this story. Wente and Mike Longaecker work for Forum Communications Co., which owns the Bemidji Pioneer.

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