From 2016 to 2019, the number of state investigations into complaints of elder abuse increased by 29% — even while higher caseloads have kept state workers from visiting their clients as often as required, according to a new report.
The performance audit by the state Auditors of Public Accounts, released Wednesday, was the first time auditors performed such an audit on the Protective Services for the Elderly program run through the state Department of Social Services, along with portions of other agencies designed to protect the elderly.
It reported a range of shortcomings in the program, including delayed investigations, inconsistent communication, a lack of clear standards for reporting complaints of elder abuse and inadequate background checks of homemaker-companions, an oversight that the report said could pose harm to elderly residents.
The auditors issued 47 recommendations for how to improve the state’s investigations of elderly abuse, calling the current system rife with communication problems between agencies and confusing for anyone who wants to file a complaint.
Other agencies the report include the Department of Consumer Protection, which oversees homemaker-companion agencies; the Department of Public Health’s Facilities and Licensing Section (FLIS) and the Long Term Care Ombudsman’s office, each of which have some responsibilities for making sure that elderly abuse complaints — whether they are financial crimes, neglect or care issues — are properly investigated.
A lack of volunteers to meet with elderly clients was identified as a key issue.
Long Term Care Ombudsman Mairead Painter said she is having difficulties finding volunteers to help monitor long-term care facilities, partly because of the pandemic. Long-term care facilities were hit hard by the virus, with more than 3,500 deaths, and even though vaccination rates in those facilities are high, it’s still not easy to get people who want to go into them, she said.
“Right now I have about five people that are willing to go into facilities and meet with residents and staff and be our eyes and ears, and we used to have well over 100 volunteers years ago,” Painter said. “That’s now falling onto the regional long term care ombudsmen who can only do quarterly visits.”
“There seems to be a lot of ways to improve the system, but better communication all around would be a place to start,” state Auditor John Geragosian said Thursday.
Among the audits findings were:
- The state doesn’t do criminal background checks on homemaker-companions, instead leaving it up to each agency to do so. “The Department of Consumer Protection (DCP), the agency where all homemaker-companion agencies must register, recently testified that there is no consistency in how these agencies choose to conduct these background checks, and DCP receives consumer complaints as a result of the inadequate background checks,” the report states.
- The long-term care ombudsman program is woefully short on volunteer resident advocates whom they rely upon to conduct visits to long-term care facilities. While there used to be enough to have one volunteer per nursing home, now there is roughly a half dozen total.
- The Department of Public Health Facility Licensing and Investigations Section does not begin investigating many of the less critical complaints it receives within the required 45 days, and it inconsistently contacts the Department of Aging and Disability Services Long-Term Care Ombudsman Program when investigating nursing home complaints.
- Mandated reporters of elder maltreatment are not required to complete related training, and the state does not widely publicize the availability of training that is available on its website. Consequently, many mandated reporters of elder maltreatment may be unaware of their reporting requirements.
As the state’s population ages, the potential for elder abuse grows. According to the Connecticut Coalition of Elder Justice, approximately one in 10 adults age 60 or older are abused, neglected, exploited or abandoned each year.
Painter said the audit shows that the state’s agencies need to communicate better. In their responses to the auditors’ recommendations, all of the agencies involved promised to work together to improve the system.
For example, previously DPH did not inform Painter’s office when they had received a complaint against a nursing home and were investigating it, which the agency said will now change.
“It (notification) wasn’t happening all of the time,” Painter said.