Veterans committee to hear testimony on issues at IVH

Concerns about the leadership style at the Iowa Veterans Home affecting patient care have become more than just concerns. The State Senate Veterans Affairs Committee will hold a public hearing at the Statehouse in Des Moines Monday to address allegations that the home’s commandant has fostered a hostile work environment that has filtered down to resident care.

An open letter that ran in the Times-Republican and other Iowa newspapers April 27 drew attention to some of the issues those testifying plan to detail further at the hearing. Several former IVH employees claim that Commandant David Worley’s leadership has decayed morale at one of the country’s largest nursing homes for vets and their spouses. The letter calls for replacement of the commandant and his deputy.

Worley denies claims that his leadership style affects resident care, saying that these criticisms come as a surprise since those making them have never approached him with their concerns. He said he welcomes questions from the public about concerns it has.

“People have the right to question and see what we do every day,” Worley said. “No one can truthfully say they have brought a concern to the Iowa Veterans Home and that concern hasn’t been adequately and completely been addressed.”

Sen. Daryl Beall, D-Fort Dodge, chair of the veterans committee, said the committee will not have time to hear from everyone who wanted to testify but that the nine or 10 people, including Worley, who are scheduled to give comments is a good start. All those scheduled to testify have first-hand knowledge of IVH’s operations.

The committee cannot subpoena witnesses, and witnesses are not sworn in.

Beall said the hearing is not meant to be adversarial.

Seven Democrats and four Republicans comprise the committee, but Beall said patient care is not a partisan issue.

“There is no Democrat or Republican way to treat our vets,” he said. “There is a right way and a wrong way to treat our vets I am hearing a lot of wrong way.”

In a press conference Monday, Gov. Terry Branstad said “personal issues” at IVH will be examined carefully, but Worley will remain the commandant at the 598-resident home.

However, Worley’s critics, including Richard Schrad, the retired director of Resident & Family Services, say Worley creates a culture of fear that leaves employees afraid to speak out against him lest their jobs or homes be threatened.

In the open letter, Schrad and others cite two investigations by the Iowa Department of Administrative Services last year that looked into attacks on Worley’s leadership methods.

The Iowa Department of Inspections and Appeals also cited the home twice last year for failing to meet minimum care standards. One of the incidents resulted in the death of one of the home’s residents.

“What I hope comes out of Monday is a spotlight on a stage that has been kept pretty dark,” Schrad, who will testify Monday, said.

Schrad said the two incidents involving resident care standards for which the home was cited exemplify how Worley’s leadership erodes employee morale. Worley bears responsibility for those missteps since they happened during his tenure, he said.

But Worley sees those problems as a breakdown in communication, not leadership.

“I am not sure how my leadership style affects someone not doing their job,” Worley said. “I doubt very seriously I had any interaction with those people [but] I am ultimately responsible.”

Most issues with employees stem from problems with attendance and tardiness, Worley said. Even then, the majority of those employment issues are handled through a progressive series of steps, so the notion that he can simply fire an employee on a whim as a retaliation is unfounded.

Of the 48 employees terminated in his 33 months as commandant, only 12 were fired outright for what Worley called “egregious” offenses. Of those 36 employees, 32 were fired for attendance or tardiness, Worley said.

Still, Beall said a number of alarming situations, such as evidence that residents with emotional and mental health problems were involuntarily discharged, demand attention. The items up for discussion have nothing to do with relations between labor and management. No one from the union is even set to testify, he said.

Sen. Steve Sodders, D-State Center, sits on the committee. He said his constituency has also expressed concerns about Worley’s practices and that the hearing will hopefully bring those issues to light.

Only members of the Senate Veterans Committee will be able to question witnesses, but members from the House Veterans Committee and the governor’s office will be on hand.

Both Schrad and Beall said they would like the hearing to prompt a more formal hearing where witnesses can be subpoenaed. Beall said he feels the governor deserves to have all the relevant information.

Worley said he does not feel his job is in jeopardy.

Schrad said he hopes the hearing will reveal the truth and get the public to be more aware and ask more questions.

“Action should have been taken long ago,” he said.

The hearing will be held from 1:30 to 3:30 p.m. in Room 22.