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Report: State's Neglect Of Elder Abuse Cases 'Deep And Pervasive'

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) -- A scathing report was released Tuesday about a state agency charged with investigating elder abuse in Minnesota.

The Office of Legislative Auditor revealed the Office of Health Facility Complaints failed to investigate thousands of abuse allegations.

Auditor James Nobles says it is because of a dysfunctional and toxic workplace.

Elder Abuse
(credit: CBS)

The report says there were 24,000 elder abuse complaints in fiscal year 2017 – and only 5 percent were investigated.

Nobles described the problems as "deep and pervasive."

"For too long, they had to work in a culture and an environment that was dysfunctional, and sometimes even toxic," Nobles said.

The investigation found the agency failed to swiftly investigate serious complaints of elder abuse.

  • An average of 38 days to interview the vulnerable adult.
  • Seventy-five days to interview the perpetrator.
  • And 140 days to finish the investigation.

Lawmakers are promising to fix the system.

"Families need to expect it as much of it as we can," said Rep. Deb Kiel, Chair of the Minnesota House Subcommittee on Aging and Long Term Care.

The audit report blames state officials for the backlog of abuse cases, asserting that they "tolerated" poor managers at the complaint office for years.

A member of the audit team reporting high staff turnover, and low morale.

"It took a long time for these problems to get as bad as they are," said Deputy Legislative Auditor Judy Randall. "And it's going to take a long time to get it back to where it needs to be."

Former Minnesota Health Commissioner Ed Ehlinger, who oversaw the Office of Health Facility Complaints, was fired when the allegations first came to light. New Commissioner Jan Malcolm is promising to change the culture.

"We are fully committed to meeting our current law obligations, and I am confident that we are well on the way to doing that," Malcolm said.

The report tallied thousands of elder abuse complaints, which it says have risen 50 percent in five years.

Reform groups like AARP are leading an effort for tougher criminal penalties against abusers, and new ways to monitor the care of loved ones in care facilities -- including cameras.

Gov. Mark Dayton ordered the Department of Human Services to intervene in the Health Department to help stem the crisis.

Acting Human Services Commissioner Chuck Johnson said in a written statement:

The Office of the Legislative Auditor report on the MDH Office of Health Facilities Complaints raises many of the same issues DHS has been working with MDH to correct since January. Since this work began we have made urgently needed progress to address backlogs in triaging and investigating reports. We will continue to work with the OHFC to implement more changes, including those recommended by the legislative auditor.

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