Gov. Janet Napolitano on Monday removed the director of the State Department of Veterans Services from running a veterans’ nursing home that was fined this month for patient neglect.
Patrick Chorpenning will stay on as director, but will not have any responsibility over the Arizona State Veterans Home in Phoenix where some of the state’s oldest veterans are cared for, said Jeanine L’Ecuyer, a spokeswoman for the governor.
The nursing home is the department’s top priority, accounting for $12 million of the department’s $18 million budget and offering long-term care for as many as 200 patients, most of whom are World War II and Korean War veterans.
When asked about Chorpenning’s future, L’Ecuyer said, “As of today he’s not resigned or been fired.”
Chorpenning also is accused of hiring family members at the department. L’Ecuyer said Chorpenning allowed his wife Cornelia to continue working despite assuring the governor’s office she was no longer working there. Also, Chorpenning at one point hired his son for a paid internship.
Those allegations have been forwarded to the state Attorney General’s Office.
Chorpenning didn’t return phone calls seeking comment.
Monday’s move came as House Speaker Jim Weiers, R-Phoenix, promised to authorize a legislative investigation this week into the substandard conditions at the home.
The state was fined $10,000 on March 16 after an inspection by the Arizona Department of Health Services found patients were left unattended for long periods of time and in some cases, forced to wear soiled clothes.
Officials said so far, two employees at the nursing home have been fired, two have resigned and four others reprimanded.
The legislative probe will also look at why the governor’s office wasn’t told about the nursing home’s conditions until Friday — nearly two weeks after the state levied fines against the agency.
Weiers also said of Chorpenning: “Based on the facts I have, I think he should be fired.”
Napolitano has ordered an immediate review of the home’s management practices, which will be led by Leonard Kirschner, former director of the Arizona Healthcare Cost Containment Care System. It’s expected to be completed within 30 days.
During a mid-afternoon meeting with reporters, Kirschner applauded the governor’s actions and attempted to downplay the results of the hospital inspection.
“These findings are things you do find when you do a survey,” he said.
He also sought to reject any comparisons between the conditions found at the Arizona nursing home and those found at Walter Reed Army Medical Center.
State health officials investigated the home in February after receiving reports of unauthorized smoking by staff and patients.
News of the conditions found at the nursing home worried East Valley residents, including Jerry Klipsch, a Vietnam veteran who lives in Apache Junction.
Klipsch was among the residents in a mobile home community, Superstition Buttes, which raised $1,125 for the veterans home through a benefit dinner two weeks ago.
“I’m a Vietnam veteran, and I sure hope to heck that when I get in that condition that someone’s going to be there to take care of me,” said Klipsch, activity director for Superstition Buttes. “The oversight is what scares me. There wasn’t any.”
Klipsch said the park residents, many of them veterans, were motivated to raise money for local veterans after reading reports last month of neglect at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C., Klipsch said.
The fundraiser was held about a week before officials determined the veterans home was in violation of health and safety requirements.
Shirley Blahak of Mesa was surprised by reports on the conditions of the veterans’ home. Her husband Robert, a 27-year Air Force veteran, received excellent care at the facility during the last nine months of his life from April 2005 through January 2006, she said.
Blahak and her three sons made frequent unannounced visits, and found Robert well-tended, even as his mental and physical conditions diminished.
“Every time we went to see him — in the last half of the time he was there, he didn’t even know us — he was clean,” she recalled. “There were no nasty odors or anything like that. And the nurses were always joking with him, which I thought was excellent. And in the last few weeks, they had to even feed him”.