VA&R Committee looks into veteran care in MDVA Domiciliary Program

By Tim Engstrom
American Legion VA&R Chairwoman Marissa LaCourt, left, speaks during a discussion at the Hastings Veterans Home on veterans care in the MDVA Domiciliary Program.

Improvements made within the past month

HASTINGS — The Minnesota Department of Veterans Affairs is on the mend after allegations of employee issues resulted in the dismissal of the Hastings Veterans Home administrator and the deputy commissioner of health care.

Hastings Veterans Home Interim Administrator Dave Dunn listens.
Hastings Veterans Home Interim Administrator Dave Dunn listens to the conversation about the Domiciliary Program.

MDVA operates the Minnesota Veterans Homes. The American Legion Department of Minnesota Veterans Affairs & Rehabilitation Committee met with MDVA leadership May 3 to follow-up on veteran-related issues that have come across their plate, not the employee-related matters.

The report, from Department Service Officer Ray Kane, addresses communication gaps when it comes to medication, a foul odor, transportation and issues with community engagement.

The meeting brought together Kane, ADSO Janet Lorenzo, VA&R Committee Chairwoman Marissa LaCourt and VA&R Committee members Donn Dufner and Jan Ekert in the same meeting room in Hastings with Interim Deputy Commissioner Brad Lindsey, Senior Director for Health Care Simone Hogan, Interim Hastings Administrator Dave Dunn, Director of Nursing Stephanie Juhl and Legislature Director Ben Johnson.

The community engagement aspect was three Legion posts or units struggling to get in contact with the home to set up events for veterans. Dunn said he feels the issue is already better, with outside groups already set up to volunteer.

The MDVA’s domiciliary program is mainly at Hastings, but it exists at part of the Minneapolis campus, too. Domiciliary care, or “dom care,” where residents live independently but have someone there for day-to-day living, is provided to veterans struggling with substance abuse or behavioral and mental issues. The other homes specialize in nursing care for elderly veterans.

The medication communication issue, according to Kane, had to do with a Hastings staff doctor reviewing recommendations from doctors at the Minneapolis VA Medical Center. Ekert, who has experience in the medical field, questioned the process and felt the Hastings physician needs to communicate with the primary care physician at the VA to ensure correct dosage. MDVA agreed and said it would be implemented.

Kane and Lorenzo had visited the Minneapolis Veterans Home a month prior and noticed a foul odor. They asked that the source be reviewed, and the interim administrator at the time said it would be addressed. Many veterans approached them about problems they noticed.

On May 3, Kane and Lorenzo returned and noticed a much-improved environment, not just in smell but in appearance, wall hangings and general cleanliness. The veterans weren’t approaching them with issues.

Lindsey explained that the original odor stemmed from a broken sewage pipe that has been replaced. He said broken air conditioning has been fixed, too. Windows, he said, are being replaced, among other ongoing updates.

The report said the discussion in Hastings delved into transportation between Hastings and the Twin Cities. Officials at the home said veterans rarely have a problem with not meeting appointments at the Minneapolis VA.