Michigan Senate honors Kalamazoo shooting victims

LANSING, Mich. – State Senators Margaret O’Brien, R-Portage; Mike Nofs, R-Battle Creek; Tonya Schuitmaker, R-Mattawan, and John Proos, R-St. Joseph, on Tuesday honored the victims of shootings that took place in the Kalamazoo area last Saturday.

The senators offered thoughts and prayers for their constituents, the victims: Tiana Carruthers, of Richland Township; Rich and Tyler Smith, of Mattawan; Mary Jo Nye, Dorothy Brown, Barbara Hawthorne and Abigail Kopf, of Battle Creek; Mary Lou Nye, of Baroda; and to their families as they cope with the unconscionable tragedy.

The Senate then paused for a moment of silence to honor the victims and their families.


Senators O’Brien, Schuitmaker issue statement on Kalamazoo shooting

LANSING, Mich. — State Senators Margaret O’Brien, R-Portage, and Tonya Schuitmaker, R-Lawton, released the following statement on Sunday in response to a shooting in Kalamazoo on Saturday that killed six people and injured two others:

“Like all Kalamazoo area residents today, our hearts break for the victims of this unspeakable act and for their families. Our families continue to keep them in our prayers during this time of mourning.

“We also would like to express our gratitude and appreciation for our communities’ public safety officers who acted quickly and professionally, and put their lives on the line to save others.

“Our communities are strong and we will come together to help our fellow Kalamazoo area residents to overcome this tragedy.”

The senators said that resources are available for residents who are in need. They should dial 2-1-1 if they need help. Additionally, a prayer vigil will be held Sunday evening at 7 p.m. at Centerpoint Church, located at 2345 N. 10th St. in Kalamazoo.


Senators to hold hearings on Grand Rapids Home for Veterans after latest audit

LANSING, Mich. – The Senate Oversight and Veterans, Military Affairs and Homeland Security committees will hold hearings on the Grand Rapids Home for Veterans after a new audit conducted by the Michigan Office of the Auditor General revealed a troubling pattern of mismanagement and neglect at the home.

Senators Peter MacGregor and Margaret O’Brien, who chair the respective committees, said legislators will look into the home’s operations to determine what more can be done within the state Legislature to bring accountability and transparency to the home and ensure the best possible care and treatment of the state’s veterans.

“Michigan’s brave military veterans dedicated their lives to serving us, sacrificing time away from their families to defend our freedom and way of life,” said O’Brien, R-Portage. “We owe them so much, not the least of which is taking care of our veterans when they return home. What is happening at the Grand Rapids Home for Veterans is unacceptable and a disservice to those who served our country. Serious changes must be made.”

The performance audit of the home outlines in detail nine findings where staff –both privately-contracted employees and union and non-union employees that work directly for the state of Michigan – failed to adequately meet obligations to provide care to the home’s members. Many of the problems identified in the latest audit have carried over from a 2013 audit.

The new audit assessed four main objectives: the sufficiency of the home’s provision of member care services; the effectiveness of the home’s administration of pharmaceuticals; the effectiveness of the home’s management of complaints and incidents regarding member care; and the sufficiency of the home’s controls over collection of assessments, donations and member funds.

The auditor’s nine findings indicated:

  1. Staff at the home did not perform regular member location checks 43 percent of the time despite reporting that they had occurred 100 percent. Supervisors approved 17 out of 25 of those false location check sheets. Similarly, fall checks did not happen 33 percent of the time but were reported to have happened 96 percent of the time.
  2. The contractor did not meet staffing requirements 81 percent of the time, and on any given day was short by as many as 22 people.
  3. Staff improperly administered prescribed pharmaceuticals, causing insurance reimbursement inefficiencies and possible quality of care issues. Thirty-nine percent of all nonnarcotic prescriptions were either refilled too late or too early.
  4. Staff did not effectively develop, execute and monitor all veteran comprehensive care plans.
  5. The home did not establish adequate controls over nonnarcotic pharmaceuticals to ensure they were accounted for and protected against loss and misuse.
  6. The home did not bill members’ insurance companies for all eligible prescriptions dispensed and did not follow up on prescriptions that were billed but rejected by insurance companies.
  7. The home did not track or properly investigate or respond to member complaints, including allegations of abuse and neglect.
  8. The home did not implement sufficient controls over the disbursement of funds belonging to veterans who were discharged or passed away, and may not have disbursed funds in a timely manner.
  9. The home did not effectively document and resolve past-due member assessments.

“The latest findings from the state auditor general add to a growing list of issues that have plagued the Grand Rapids Home for Veterans for more than a decade,” said MacGregor, R-Rockford. “It is clear that supposed internal actions taken by the home to fix these problems haven’t worked. Michiganders and our veterans demand that action be taken to right this wrong as soon as possible.”

The senators noted that recent moves to hire new leadership staff by the Michigan Veteran Health System, which operates within the Michigan Veterans Affairs Agency and oversees the home, is a positive step but the home’s systemic failures require more action.

“I am very angry and disappointed by the findings of the audit,” O’Brien said. “Our veterans deserve better. Now that the auditor general has identified the causes of the problems at the home we won’t be satisfied until our veterans receive the proper care and treatment they deserve.”

The committees will announce hearings in the coming weeks.


Senator Margaret O’Brien introduces legislation to combat opioid epidemic

Senator Margaret O'Brien

Senator Margaret O’Brien

LANSING, Mich. — New bills introduced by Senator Margaret O’Brien on Tuesday would implement recommendations from the state’s Prescription Drug and Opioid Abuse Task Force.

Senate Bills 771 and 772 would make it a felony punishable by up to 15 years in prison to overprescribe specified controlled substances. The crime currently is a misdemeanor punishable by two years.

“This legislation seeks to eliminate any illicit collusion between pharmacies and physicians,” said O’Brien, R-Portage. “Commonly referred to as a ‘pill mill,’ these operations often have an illegitimate doctor-pharmacy relationship with a doctor or clinic prescribing certain narcotics, and a pharmacy dispensing them, both lacking a legitimate medical purpose.”

Senate Bills 769 and 770, sponsored by Senator Tonya Schuitmaker, would require doctors to check the Michigan Automated Prescription System, or MAPS, before prescribing medications to new patients. MAPS is used to identify and prevent drug diversion at all levels, from the prescribing physician, to the pharmacy, and finally to the patient, by collecting prescriptions for schedule two to schedule five controlled substances.

Under SB 770, failure to consult MAPS prior to the prescription being finalized would require the violating physician to complete remedial continuing medical education, or CME.

“MAPS can be an effective tool in our fight against opioid addiction,” said Schuitmaker, R-Lawton. “While these drugs play an important role in the care of many patients, medical professionals should be on the lookout for doctor shopping, a practice in which patients may go to several doctors in an effort to get multiple prescriptions.”

SBs 769-772 have been referred to the Senate Committee on Health Policy.