116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
MARSHALLTOWN — Gov. Kim Reynolds has removed a retired Army colonel who for four years led the state's nursing home for Iowa veterans and their spouses, months after publicly praising his response to the COVID-19 pandemic, her office said Monday.
Reynolds' spokesman, Pat Garrett, said Timon Oujiri last week was “relieved of his duties” as commandant of the Iowa Veterans Home in Marshalltown. He offered no additional information on the leadership change at the facility, which is Iowa's largest nursing home.
However, some Iowa Senate Republicans this year made clear they wanted him out, citing conflict at the home after Oujiri began enforcing a smoking ban that was being instituted at Veterans Affairs facilities nationwide.
➤➤ January article about the Iowa Veterans Home: Bill would allow smoking at Iowa Veterans Home
Oujiri, a Cedar Rapids native, was military recruiting operations director at Hy-Vee — overseeing efforts to recruit veterans for jobs at the company — when we was appointed as chief executive of the Marshalltown home in the final days in office of then-Gov. Terry Branstad. The Iowa Senate confirmed him in 2018. In his role, he oversaw one of the nation's largest state-owned nursing homes for veterans, with around nearly 500 residents and 900 employees.
In December, Reynolds appeared with Oujiri at a news conference and praised the work he had done protecting the home's staff and residents during the pandemic.
“You and your team have done such an outstanding job,” Reynolds said. “Job well done.”
Oujiri, 63, returned the support, saying the governor had ensured the home had adequate personal protective equipment and testing supplies. He said then that 21 of the home's residents tested positive for COVID-19 in 2020 and that five of them died. In February, state inspectors found that the home was in compliance with federal infection control standards for COVID-19.
Messages left for Oujiri on Monday weren't immediately returned. As of 2020, a state salary database showed that his annual salary was $126,000.
Two bills introduced this session in the Iowa Legislate took direct aim at Oujiri and his leadership.
One, Senate Study Bill 1080, would have required the Veterans Home to allow smoking despite risking millions in federal funding. The home prohibited smoking in 2019 following an inspection by the VA and the implementation of a nationwide no-smoking policy in VA facilities, the Marshalltown Times-Republican reported.
However, home administrators allowed 41 residents who started living there before the ban to continue to smoke in a designated area with supervision. Others who arrived later said they should be allowed to smoke, too.
“The residents of the home are war veterans,” Sen. Jim Carlin, R-Sioux City, said last month during a subcommittee meeting on SSB 1080. “They deserve the dignity and freedom of choice if they’ve been smoking that long. We want to allow our veterans at IVH to smoke and make accommodations for that.”
Sen. Liz Mathis, D-Hiawatha, who also served on the panel, said during the debate she’d rather try to help veterans quit smoking to improve their health and that of the staff subjected to secondhand smoke.
“You’ve probably never smoked yourself,” Carlin replied to her. “You’ve probably never hung out at a bar, had a beer, smoked cigarettes with your buddies.”
The bill failed to gain traction and did not survive a legislative deadline.
Another bill, Senate File 511, which was managed by Carlin, took more direct aim at Oujiri without naming him. The bill sought a four-year term limit on the commandant of the Iowa Veterans Home. Under that bill, Oujiri would have had to leave if he hadn’t been reappointed by Reynolds.
Though that bill did not make it past a legislative deadline, either, the outcome with his ouster is the same as if it had.
It wasn't immediately clear if Oujiri remained a state employee in any other capacity.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.