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Minnesota catching up on elder abuse cases

Minnesota Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm announces on Thursday, March 1, that the state is catching up on a backlog of elder abuse cases. With her is Chuck Johnson, acting human services cmmissioner. Don Davis / Forum News Service

ST. PAUL—Minnesota officials say they are catching up on a backlog of cases alleging elderly people have been abused.

Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm on Thursday, March 1, said all 2,321 cases that had piled up in the Office of Health Facilities Complaints have been reviewed. Of those, officials decided further investigations are needed for 89 cases. Those probes will be added to 430 investigations already underway.

In December, 826 investigations were being conducted.

Thursday's report came as state legislators probe incidents that have been reported in facilities such as nursing homes and assisted living centers around Minnesota.

Next week, the legislative auditor, a government watchdog, is expected to release findings of an investigation of the Office of Health Facility Complaints, which is responsible for overseeing long-term care facilities. There have been reports that stacks of abuse reports sat in the department's office without being examined.

Earlier this week, long-term care providers apologized for abuses and agreed safety improvements are needed.

"To all the seniors and families whose lives have been impacted, in any way, by abuse or maltreatment, please know we share their hurt and their grief and are truly sorry for the heartbreaking experiences they have endured," Gayle Kvenvold, CEO of LeadingAge, told members of the Senate aging and long-term care committee.

Last year, lawmakers learned that only a small percentage of abuse complaints were being investigated and perpetrators often were not punished for theft, maltreatment and other crimes.

Gov. Mark Dayton has said that although his administration failed to conduct investigations, the real culprits are the facilities that are supposed to take care of the elderly. When the problems were made public, Dayton told the Department of Human Services to help the Health Department because DHS has its own office that conducts similar investigations. On Thursday, he praised the state workers who nearly got caught up in six weeks.

Malcolm said the administration in about a week will release some legislation to allow her department to conduct more rigorous investigations of elder abuse.

Acting Human Services Commissioner Chuck Johnson said that in recent weeks the departments have made elder abuse complaints paperless, which has speeded work on them and allowed workers to keep up. About 400 new abuse cases are reported each week, Johnson said.

He added that his department had issues similar to the more recent Health Department problems about four years ago, so what was learned there transferred to the elder issues.

Christopher Magan of the St. Paul Pioneer Press, a Forum News Service media partner, contributed to this story.

Don Davis
Don Davis has been the Forum Communications Minnesota Capitol Bureau chief since 2001, covering state government and politics for two dozen newspapers in the state. Don also blogs at Capital Chatter on Areavoices.