Caregivers at the Minnesota Veterans Home in Hastings say a long-standing culture of workplace harassment, retaliation and bullying has led to an exodus of workers and hazards for both residents and staff. Current and former workers say unsafe conditions are ignored, medical decisions are made by unqualified people and staffing levels are dangerously low, according to interviews and documents obtained by the Pioneer Press.
The problems endanger some of Minnesota’s most vulnerable veterans who turn to these state-run homes, called domiciliaries, as a last hope. The Pioneer Press reviewed allegations from more than a dozen caregivers at the Hastings veterans home that described an ongoing pattern of ignoring safety concerns and consequences for those who spoke up.
Two top officials in the Minnesota Department of Veterans Affairs lost their jobs just before a Minnesota Senate committee held a hearing about allegations of the toxic workplace environment at the Hastings Veterans Home. The commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Veterans Affairs answered questions about the Hastings home after Doug Hughes, the department’s deputy commissioner, and Mike Anderson, administrator of the Hastings facility — were relieved of their duties.
“I am aware of ongoing issues that have been raised at the Hastings Veterans Home,” Larry Herke, commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Veterans Affairs, wrote in a staff-wide email sent in March. Herke said the home will move forward with new leadership.
Senate State and Local Government and Veterans Committee Chair Erin Murphy (DFL-St. Paul), said her panel first started hearing in January about waiting lists for veterans to get into homes during a field hearing at the Minneapolis facility. Then she said information started to trickle in about issues in Hastings. Numerous whistleblowers brought forward many problems.
The veterans home in Hastings is not a nursing home. The 145-bed facility’s domiciliary program provides an independent living environment for veterans from all military branches who need assistance with mental health, chemical dependency issues and financial or social well-being.
The complaints allege the home’s environment took what naturally was a difficult time — the COVID-19 pandemic that brought lockdowns and mental health struggles — and made it significantly worse.
More than 20 of the facility’s fewer than 100 employees have left in the past year and a half, one former supervisor said, pointing out the facility has been operating without a nurse practitioner since the previous one left.
“It was a matter of putting a lot of work on people that shouldn’t be doing it, and transferring work to other people who shouldn’t be doing it, and then throwing people under the bus when they did something wrong — when it wasn’t something they should have been doing in the first place,” said Tori Pearce, an Air Force veteran who was director of nursing at the Hastings facility until she left in September 2021. “I want to feel these homes are ready for what special-needs veterans will need in the future.”
State veterans groups have expressed outrage that this work environment could have led to subpar care for some of the state’s most vulnerable veterans. Trent Dilks, the legislative director for Disabled American Veterans of Minnesota who served two tours in Iraq, said the most pressing concerns at the Hastings home involved non-medical administrators overruling medical professionals in caring for veterans.
(Source: Pioneer Press, Star Tribune)