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The latest cases also show how difficult it is to hold a state-run nursing facility legally accountable, said Mark Kosieradzki, a leader in litigation involving nursing homes in the state. Minnesota’s immunity laws mean that government institutions like the Minneapolis vets home can’t be held liable for punitive damages. Compensatory damages are capped by law.
“You’ve got state investigators who are doing lukewarm investigations and you’ve got laws written in a fashion that makes it very difficult to bring a case against them,” he said. “The only way you are going to get a finding of neglect is if they admit it.”
Earlier this year, Pamela Barrows, a former deputy veterans commissioner at the state, took the unusual step of sending Dayton a letter seeking an investigation of the current deputy commissioner in charge of the homes, Michael Gallucci, for creating a hostile work environment.
“I’ve had multiple staff, in multiple locations state to me that they are fearful of this man and what he is doing to the homes,” Barrows wrote.
Shellito defended Gallucci and pointed to advances in telemedicine, the opening and accreditation of the second veteran-focused adult day care in the country, and the implementation of a safety program that has reduced employee injuries as evidence of his successes.
“Since Mr. Gallucci arrived the senior leadership team has stabilized, giving us a chance to refocus our vision and mission statement,” Shellito said in a prepared statement.
Another change in oversight
Oversight of the vets home has proved historically problematic. Gov. Rudy Perpich stripped the homes from the VA in 1987 after years of problems, and the Legislature created the Veterans Homes Board to take over. In 2007, Pawlenty dissolved that board and returned the homes to the state veterans department, but with outside oversight provided by a citizens advisory council.
That council’s term expired in June. Its first formal meeting is scheduled next month.
That change disappoints Duluth resident Brad Bennett, a Vietnam veteran who was awarded two Purple Hearts and served on the council until his term expired in 2011.
“I guess I’d be hard-pressed to say we accomplished much, except to keep the spotlight on what was going on in Minneapolis, keeping the focus on them,” Bennet said.
But the loss of the council’s independent eye, he said, is “like the chickens running the chicken coop.”
Mark Brunswick • 612-673-4434