The Arizona Department of Veterans Services agreed Tuesday to pay a $5,250 fine as part of a settlement following the highly publicized cases of patient neglect at a state-run veterans home in Phoenix.
The Arizona State Veteran Home, managed by the state agency, also must undergo random spot checks by the Arizona Department of Health Services, which discovered residents of the home were being neglected during an inspection in February.
The state-imposed fines are on top of a $10,000 penalty levied by the federal government after a Feb. 9 audit of the care facility revealed patients were ignored for hours, and in some cases found with cigarette burns on their clothes and skin.
That fine is still pending while officials at the home decide whether to appeal it .
“We have very firm agreement that I think will protect the health and well-being of the patients there,” said Lisa Wynn, DHS assistant director of licensing services.
Officials with veterans services agreed to the deal after a nearly three-hour meeting with officials at the state health department. That agency will administer the fine as well as oversee the inspections.
Also as part of the deal, home directors must submit a plan of correction by April 17.
Richard Maxon, the interim director of veterans services, said he agreed to the punishment even though he had disputed some of the alleged cases of abuse.
“I just made the business decision to get this behind us,” he said late Tuesday following the meeting.
He attributed one case of reported neglect to a lack of supplies, which forced nurses at the home to improvise until they could find the proper equipment to care for the patient.
Other examples of neglect found during the Feb. 9 audit include unanswered call lights and unsupervised smoking practices that led some patients to accidentally burn themselves.
Fallout from the findings included several firings and the resignation of Patrick Chorpenning, the former director of veterans services. Several other workers at the home also have received official reprimands.
State health officials said they determined the fine amount on a per-incident basis. The home could have been fined up to $500 for every case of neglect, according to Mary Wiley, director of licensing services at the Department of Health Services.
She also said the unannounced inspections would begin shortly after they submitted the corrective action plan to the state.
While the state has always had the authority to check the home, Wynn said this lets the facility know there will be more in the future.
In the past, surprise inspections were mostly done after a complaint or when the veterans home’s license was up for renewal.
Today, state lawmakers will hold a hearing on the abuses at the veterans home. Among the topics that could be discussed is a January audit by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs that so far has gone unreported.
The nursing home is run by the state, but the costs of care are shared among the VA, the state and the veterans. The federal government has oversight authority because federal money goes into operations. Federal benefits account for roughly one-third of a veteran’s nursing home bill, which runs about $130 a day.
The VA denied state regulators’ request for a copy of the internal review, Wynn said. Such reviews typically are prompted by complaints to the VA Inspector General.
“My understanding is that in January there was a report,” Wynn said, “and that there were problems identified in that report.”
There are 114 state veterans homes in 47 states, which along with privately run facilities, account for about 70 percent of veterans’ nursing home care.