DES MOINES – Gov. Terry Branstad reiterated his contention Monday that residents at the Iowa Veterans Home are getting top-quality care and expressed concern that criticism of leadership at the Marshalltown facility is becoming increasingly political.
However, a key Democrat who has raised concern about quality of care and safety issues at the veterans’ home refuted the governor’s claim and countered that, if anything, it’s Branstad and his staff who have injected politics into the situation.
Branstad, a five-term Republican, has repeatedly defended the way Commandant David Worley is managing the facility, but at the same time he announced last week retired Brig. Gen. Jodi Tymeson was leaving the Iowa Department of Veterans Affairs May 28 to become chief operating officer at the veterans’ home.
Branstad administration officials said the decision to keep Worley as the home’s top leader but have Tymeson oversee the day-to-day operations had been in the works for months to assure the more than 600 residents get the standard of care that Iowans expect them to have and was unrelated to a Senate hearing focusing on problems and concerns raised by former employees and resident representatives.
“We want to make sure that the veterans who are residents of that home get the best possible care. We are confident that is the case and we want to make sure that continues to be,” the governor said of the IVH management. “If there was a situation that we felt was critical or dangerous to people that lived there, obviously we would take action. But we have not heard or seen that.”
Sen. Steve Sodders, D-State Center, whose district includes Marshalltown, said that does not jibe with the concerns he’s hearing and he continues to call on the governor to place Worley on paid administrative leave while independent investigators probe allegations of intimidation, bullying, sexual harassment and other problems at the Iowa Veterans Home.
Sodders called Tymeson’s new role at the Marshalltown home a positive step in addressing the situation, but Sen. Matt McCoy, D-Des Moines, expressed concern the move was an attempt by the Branstad administration to “sweep it under the rug.”
On Monday, Branstad told his weekly news conference he did not plan to place Worley on administrative leave and much of the criticism is based on “second-hand information and a lot of hearsay that people have repeated” that increasingly has become partisan in nature.
“I’m tired of some of the politics that is going on here,” the GOP governor told reporters. “I think this has got a lot to do with politics and I think it’s got a lot to do with personalities. I don’t appreciate people using character assassination and attacking people with second-hand information.”
Branstad called Worley an “excellent, capable administrator” with nursing home experience who gets positive reviews from residents and others who have spoken with him and his staff.
However, Sen. Daryl Beall, D-Fort Dodge, chairman of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, said he spoke with Branstad aides and the governor before scheduling a fact-finding meeting that he noted produced first-hand accounts of some of the problem areas.
Beall said he “reluctantly” opened the issue publicly after the governor delivered “you’re doing a great job, Brownie,” comments in giving Worley a strong vote of confidence.
“I think his comments that this is politically inspired are very wrong,” Beall said in response to Branstad on Monday. “I worked very diligent to avoid that kind of thing. I think it’s the governor who has really turned this into more of a political or a partisan issue.”
Since last week’s fact-finding hearing, Beall said he has received even more comments that concern him and he believes the matter should be probed by the Legislature’s Government Oversight Committee, which can meet in the interim and has the power to subpoena and depose witnesses who may fear reprisal unless they are compelled to testify under oath.
Beall said he was disappointed with the course events have taken, but added “I think the truth will emerge. It’s more difficult than I thought it would be.”