Auditors: Inadequate computer could hamper abuse probes

An inadequate computer system is jeopardizing efforts to investigate accusations of abuse or neglect of adults with mental retardation, state auditors say.

“Some cases could be lost and deadlines are definitely at-risk of not being met,” State Auditor Kevin P. Johnston said.

The Office of Protection and Advocacy for Persons with Disabilities handles about 1,300 complaints annually, of which some 400 are found to be actual incidents of neglect or abuse, said James D. McGaughey, the state agency’s director.

And while McGaughey agrees that there are flaws in the decade-old computer system being used to track these cases, he believes his 10-person staff investigating complaints has launched the “appropriate work-arounds” to ensure no accusation is lost in the system.

“The numbers don’t always add up, and we know that about it, so we are careful. We are tracking it instead,” he said, adding that OPA is working on a “shoestring staff and budget.”


James D. McGaughey, director of Office of Protection and Advocacy for Persons with Disabilities

McGaughey said one position in the 11-person Abuse Investigation Division has remained vacant since December, which does hamper the agency’s ability to look into complaints.

“We are trying to get approval to hire for that position. We’ll see if it happens,” he said. “Our highest priority is refilling that position.”

Cathy Cook — a former state legislator, an advocate for those with disabilities and the mother of a child with mental retardation — said staff at OPA has always been limited, which makes it even more important the computer system tracking the allegations is working properly.

“Their understaffing slows down their ability to investigate and monitor these complaints,” she said. “They do need assistance to accurately and speedily handle concerns.”

A new computer software system was requested in 2007, McGaughey said, but the cost– more the $100,000–“greatly exceeded existing budgeted funds.”

The agency requested their $2.6 million annual budget be expanded to cover the expense, but funding was not approved in the state’s final adopted budget.

Robert G. Jaekle, the other state auditor, said the current computer system is not performing.

“They cannot rely on this system. It should have accurate data so they can rely upon it to monitor cases,” he said. “We did not find that their work-arounds led to any cases being overlooked, but that doesn’t mean it hasn’t happened. There is no reliable system.”

The agency has 90 days to complete most investigations, and “every step that an investigator takes, from intake to the completion of the investigation of a report, it’s done on this database. It’s used every day,” McGaughey said.

“It’s good for finding out the status on a specific case. Where it’s not working so well is forming a general query. You would think you could get basic information, and it does it gives you an answer, but when you go back and ask a few minutes later the answer has changed,” he said. “It will lie to you, that’s the frustration.”

For Johnston, that defeats the whole purpose of having a system.

“How do you know what information is accurate? … The whole system is meant to be there to help meet deadlines and monitor someone and make sure everything is OK. These are serious allegations so you should want to make sure they are not missed.”