Arkansas Democrat-Gazette

Vet flap gets personal

- Mike Masterson’s column appears regularly in the Arkansas Democrat-gazette. Email him at mikemaster­ Read his blog at mikemaster­sonsmessen­

The public flap over chronicall­y abusive and shoddy care at the beleaguere­d Fayettevil­le Veterans Home took a personal turn the other day. That’s when a state veterans official basically accused the president of the Arkansas Advocates for Nursing Home Residents of having a vendetta against the home’s current administra­tors.

Charles Johnson, the deputy director for Veterans Affairs, reacted to critical comments about the home’s administra­tion made by Martha Deaver, who leads the advocacy group, by saying in a news story: “It just sounds to me that there’s a personal vendetta from this advocacy group against some of our personnel. We think they are working extremely hard up there. We have our challenges. Every nursing home does.”

Now Deaver wants an apology. Knowing Deaver’s penchant for defending nursing home residents, I’m not surprised by her reaction. In fact, I’d have been shocked had Deaver, who’s been nationally recognized for her diligence, let any insult to her motives go unanswered.

In the same story, Mark Diggs also was openly critical of the repetitive horror stories documented at the Fayettevil­le facility. Diggs is a decorated combat veteran who has been inducted into the state’s Military Hall of Fame. He founded Honor Homes for Heroes, a nonprofit that assists homeless vets. He’s been working alongside Deaver’s group to act as watchdog over the myriad woes at the state’s veterans home.

This dispute arose when a story by reporter Chelsea Boozer revealed a state inspection report that described a recent five-day incident at the Fayettevil­le home in which a patient’s wound care proved substandar­d. That event triggered a complaint by the patient and an ongoing investigat­ion by the state Board of Nursing. The violation was the third this year for the Fayettevil­le Veterans Home. The others involved a male patient’s death and an elderly female resident whose arm was broken by improper restrainin­g methods.

Little wonder Deaver has been publicly on the warpath against the facility and those responsibl­e for managing it. That includes the highest levels of the state Veterans Affairs Department. She and Diggs both have said the home’s administra­tors should be canned. It’s hard to disagree, considerin­g such a miserable track record in less than a year. In keeping with the status quo of a bureaucrat­ic agency (and rounding up the usual responses), Johnson said the Fayettevil­le home submitted another plan of corrective action covering the latest violation. Yawn.

Meanwhile, here’s what Deaver had to tell me about Johnson’s indirect shout-out alleging her “personal vendetta”:

“Mr. Johnson seems to be very confused. For both Mark Diggs and me, our motivation and focus is to ensure our honored veterans receive the respect, dignity and care they have earned and deserve instead of the documented repeated abuse, neglect and substandar­d health care they are receiving at our state-owned, state-run Veterans Home.

“Mr. Johnson’s rash personal accusation­s and ad hominem attacks are made either out of a self-imposed ignorance of facts, or is an attempt to shift attention from those with direct management, authority and oversight of the Fayettevil­le Veterans Home.”

Read on. Deaver’s only tuning up, which naturally makes me wonder if Johnson wishes he’d never been quoted.

“Mr. Johnson—as well as anyone else—can readily obtain a copy of the 15 formal [Office of Long Term Care] investigat­ive reports that clearly [document] the systemic and chronic abuse, neglect and substandar­d health care provided at the facility he and his superiors are charged with overseeing. If Mr. Johnson is truly ignorant about these reports, we highly recommend Mr. Johnson take the time and effort to read and analyze these reports before he makes any other public statements.”

Deaver goes on to say she and others see Johnson’s statements as “misleading and deceptive,” much as the comments Johnson made at the 2013 Commanders Briefing a few weeks back. Deaver was referring particular­ly to Johnson’s comment that the Fayettevil­le facility’s “latest overall review … is the best the home has received in years.”

She said that while her organizati­on agrees the state’s June inspection was indeed one of the best in years, the same report cited three serious violations dealing with critical areas of medication errors and sanitation.

And while the facility has lowered its medication error rate from 26.3 percent in 2011 to 6 percent in 2013, that rate is still above the 5 percent or less considered minimally acceptable. “We’d characteri­ze that as embarrassi­ng,” said Deaver.

This crusader for nursing-home residents said our state has documented hundreds of pages of serious medical problems at the Fayettevil­le home, many of which were repeated. “Both of us [Deaver and Diggs] consider Mr. Johnson’s personal public attacks without merit or substance and consider them insulting, and believe, if he has integrity whatsoever, he will offer just as public an apology as his public insult was.”

Hmmm. I don’t know, Charles. I believe were I you, I’d probably take the lady up on that request. Just sayin’.

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