Apr 28, 2015
By: Bradford Arick
A 97-year-old WWII vet who is legally blind and almost entirely deaf was basically kicked to the curb by the North Dakota Veterans Home and they won’t say why.
A 97-year-old WWII Veteran who is almost completely deaf and legally blind was kicked out of a care facility where he’d been living. According to the North Dakota Veterans Home, Henry Satlak was verbally abusive and was repeatedly told to quit that behavior, or he’d have to leave. Henry’s son, Van, contacted our Whistleblower Team to look into this situation, the practices of the Veteran’s Home and who is ultimately in charge of the facility. Valley News Team’s Bradford Arick has been investigating this for weeks now.
Peaceful, quiet farmland encircles Leisure Living in Hartford, SD, just outside Sioux Falls. It’s where 97-year-old Henry Satlak now sleeps. He was born and raised there, then joined the Army, serving in Northern Africa and Italy.
“And was injured from what he says and eventually was discharged from the Army in 1945,” said Van Satlak.
Van is Henry’s son, the oldest of five kids.
“Being he’s 97 years old, he has both vision problems and hearing problems. He has macular degeneration,” explained Van.
“When you’re blind, you can’t hear half the *expletive* out there,” laughed Henry. “Don’t put that on tv!” he chuckled.
Before living in South Dakota, Henry lived here, at the North Dakota Veterans Home in Lisbon. While there, a feud was born. Henry was wrongfully accused of tracking in mud from a nearby construction site. Henry then reported another resident for smoking while on Oxygen.
“Then my dad was called a ‘snitch’ for reporting this incident. And so my dad and this gentleman haven’t gotten along for a couple years,” Van said.
It reached a head nearly a year ago. According to the Clinical Notes Report, Henry began cursing at residents and staff members. The Report tells a tale of a depressed, ornery old man with few outlets for his attention.
“At that point they also sent out a warning letter saying his behavior needed to change,” Van stated.
That was early October, and the letter reads in part “There have been numerous incidents in which you have been verbally abusive and threatened physical abuse. You often shake your cane, give offensive hand gestures and swear at others… Your behaviors are unacceptable and need to stop.”
Van was able to get Henry transferred to a different part of the Home under the conditions his dad meet with a Clinical Psychologist and VA Neuropsychologist.
“And that doctor said that at age 97 they don’t use a lot of filter in what they’re saying so that’s nothing unusual there,” Van said.
Remember that warning letter where the Veterans Home said Henry had “threatened physical abuse”? The Neuropsychologist’s opinion…
“That he was not physically dangerous. The North Dakota Veterans Home claims that he was endangering the health and safety of the other residents because of name calling,” explained Van.
And what about the Clinical Psychologist that was supposed to visit Henry?
“She came to the North Dakota Veterans Home and she actually did not meet with him. She actually just reviewed notes on his behavior and said that he needed more structure and stimulation including watching tv and looking at pictures,” Van said incredulously.
Watching tv and looking at pictures: two activities not possible for Henry Satlak. It’s not the first time an official failed to meet with him. Van alleges Mark Johnson, the man whose signature was on the warning and discharge letters, never met or talked to his father. In an email, Van typed “I found it deplorable that in over 1000 working days since my dad initially became a resident… that he had never met my dad. I question if Mark Johnson is really interested in all of the residents?”
Henry slipped up again in December.
“Then by doing that he got a written discharge notice,” Van pointed out.
Henry had 30 days to go. So why was Henry, a 97-year-old, legally blind, almost completely deaf, WWII Vet essentially kicked to the curb? Reporter Bradford Arick tried calling Mark Johnson, the Vets Home Administrator nearly a half dozen times with no response. So he went down to the facility to confront Mark about the situation.
“You don’t need to tape me so…” Johnson said to the camera.
Arick was barely inside the front door before Johnson greeted him. His answer to why Henry was kicked out?
“Its its federal and state regulations and thats all its about. You know I have to look at all veterans and make sure they’re all being served properly,” Mark Johnson explained.
What regulations? Arick could not find anything other than one section of the Veterans Home Handbook that says “When a resident endangers another resident or staff member through physical or repetitive verbal abuse they may be subject to discharge.” Henry Satlak, again according to the Clinical Notes Report, did not specifically target just one resident.
“He’s 97 years old. I mean how much abuse could he be causing someone?” Reporter Bradford Arick asked.
“I really I’m not going to comment. The biggest thing is that we are going to talk about it at the next meeting,” Johnson replied.
That meeting is tentatively scheduled for July. Mark Johnson was pretty much done not answering questions by this point.
“If you want to talk to our Chairman of the Board he’s said he’d be glad to talk to you,” said Johnson.
Arick called the Chairman of the Governing Board, Gary Skarphol. He again asked how Henry Satlak, who faithfully served his country, could be kicked out. Skarphol replied they received the information, were taking it under advisement but would otherwise not comment. The officials in charge of a facility caring for elderly veterans, funded by your tax dollars would not answer the question.
“I’ve heard that that Governing Board and Mark Johnson are like this,” Van said crossing his fingers together.
While Van remains frustrated by the whole ordeal, his father was doing well. When Reporter Bradford Arick visited him, he was vocal, funny and seemed content.
“But I don’t have a stove in here or nothing like. They’re afraid I’ll be selling hotdogs!” Henry laughed.
Van’s wife, Theresa, has strong opinions about this too, asking how do you change someone of that age when things slip out of their mouth?
“Is it a dischargeable offense? My opinion was maybe the Veterans Home didn’t take enough steps to try to redirect him, to intervene, to maybe have a joint meeting between the two residents, a conflict resolution? It didn’t seem like they tried very many steps,” said Theresa.
As for the tentatively scheduled meeting in July, Valley News Team’s Bradford Arick plans on attending, again bringing this situation with the Satlak family to the Governing Board’s attention. Many other people have been calling Valley News Live reporting issues with the North Dakota Veterans Home and on Tuesday, one woman will tell her story about having to pay over $10,000 a month for her husband to stay there.
More Allegations Against North Dakota Veterans Home Surface
More allegations have surface against the North Dakota Veterans Home following our story on a 97 year old vet kicked out of a home in Lisbon. The phone calls, emails and social media messages have been flooding in to our newsroom.
Marlene Schultz’s husband, Verne, got sick a few years ago, needing more care than she could provide at home. Verne was a Veteran so he checked into the North Dakota Veterans Home in Lisbon in 2013.
“I guess what bothered me a lot was the fact that they told me how good he was doing,” Schultz said.
She says at a meeting, she and staff members discussed Verne’s progress. The staff’s consensus: Verne was doing well. A few days later, Marlene Schultz got a bill for Verne’s care that was $3000 more than normal.
“So then I called the administrator, he knew nothing of it,” Schultz claimed.
She was furious and she wanted to know why, if her husband was doing so well, that his price of care had jumped so much. She called Mark Johnson, the North Dakota Veterans Home Administrator, along with other officials there and she says they did not help her. Schultz also said she reached out to VA officials in Fargo and that did not help either.
So again, Reporter Bradford Arick made a round of calls, starting with state legislators for the Lisbon area. Representative Jerry Kelsh answered that he wasn’t aware of any complaints and said lawmakers are not in charge of the facility, they simply appropriate the funding. Mark Johnson did not return calls and neither did Gary Skarphol, Chairman of the Governing Board.
“I could never recommend anybody to go down there,” Schultz said.
Her husband is now in a facility in Jamestown and she said it was like a night and day difference.
“It was just like nobody cares. Nobody cares down there. Just come and do our thing and let the patient worry about themselves I guess,” she said.
Allegations from many others against the home include staff dispensing psychotropic drugs without the proper medical credentials, a hands off approach to care and a lack of special skills to deal with mental health issues.
Please continue reaching out to us if you’ve experience problems with the North Dakota Veterans Home. Remember, Valley News Team’s Bradford Arick will be attending the next meeting of the Governing Board in July and he’s continuing to look into what goes on at the North Dakota Veterans Home.