Lawmakers Say Vets' Care Still Lacking - | Nashville News, Weather & Sports

NC5 Investigates: Veterans Homes

Lawmakers Say Vets' Care Still Lacking

Polly Darnall, executive director Polly Darnall, executive director
Grover Poteet, board chairman Grover Poteet, board chairman
John Keys, veterans affairs commissioner John Keys, veterans affairs commissioner
Dave Goetz, finance commissioner Dave Goetz, finance commissioner

State lawmakers took the folks who run the Tennessee State Veterans Homes to task Wednesday for the on-going problems at the nursing homes, especially the one in Murfreesboro. 

Some of the problems were first exposed more than a year ago by a NewsChannel 5 investigation.

Consumer investigator Jennifer Kraus found that a big part of the problem may fall on the board that runs the homes.

"These are serious matters," state Rep. Charles Curtiss, D-Sparta, told the crowd that filled the legislative hearing room.

Curtiss and other state lawmakers say something has to be done about the on-going problems at the Tennessee State Veterans Homes.

State Sen. Mark Norris, R-Collierville, agreed. "This is not satisfactory. It is just not satisfactory."

And Sen. Bill Ketron, R-Murfreesboro, told the panel, "I think if there's money missing, then I think somebody needs to look at it."

The Tennessee State Veterans Homes audits have repeatedly found numerous financial problems.

And state health inspectors have repeatedly found critical care violations that put patients' lives in danger.

The homes' executive director Polly Darnall assured the lawmakers, "I feel we have made progress."

The folks who run the three nursing homes for veterans, including the one in Murfreesboro, are now promising lawmakers they are trying to fix the problems.

Veterans Homes Board member and Commissioner of Veterans Affairs John Keys explained, "We are working diligently."

And Board Member Arnett Bodenhamer echoed that sentiment saying, "We have a real effective board. We're looking out for our veterans."

Yet, board members told lawmakers the same thing at a similar hearing a year ago.

But "NewsChannel 5 Investigates" has discovered these same Veterans Homes Board members are still making questionable decisions.

Just last week, the board approved a new budget that includes more than $3 million from the state that was specifically to go to improve patient care and address specific problems uncovered by federal investigators.

Yet, we found the board decided to spend a big chunk of that money on building new office space, storage buildings and parking lots.

NewsChannel 5 was there when Darnall explained to the board at their own meeting last week, "Yes, we'll add parking, yes, because we desperately need parking."

And afterwards, the board chairman Grover Poteet defended the decision saying, "It's a need. Parking is a need. Storage buildings are a need."

But the Bredesen Administration didn't agree.

When asked whether parking lot construction fit the criteria for improving patient care, state Finance Commissioner Dave Goetz said emphatically, "No!"

Goetz tells NewsChannel 5 that the board's budget plan doesn't cut it.

And the state Health Commissioner Susan Cooper was equally pessimistic about what the Board is doing.

Cooper told lawmakers during their hearing, "There seems to be a failure to provide adequate care."

And the health commissioner added that the problems with patient care are not going away.

Yet, board chairman Poteet insisted, "It's not patient care" that is a problem.

And, as we talked with Poteet further, we discovered that despite extensive media coverage of it, he clearly had no idea that the state shut down the Murfreesboro home this summer after finding patients repeatedly had gotten into fights.

"I really don't know enough about the fights to make a statement on that," Poteet told Kraus. "I had not heard about that."

But state lawmakers said they're tired of excuses. They want change.

"The whole state is looking at the Board and this operation to take care of our veterans," Curtiss said.

Back to NewsChannel 5 Investigates

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