Pa. crit­i­cized for how it han­dles el­der abuse cases

The Reporter (Lansdale, PA) - - FRONT PAGE - By Marc Levy

HARRISBURG >> An in­ter­nal Penn­syl­va­nia state gov­ern­ment watch­dog agency is crit­i­ciz­ing how county-level agen­cies in­ves­ti­gate thou­sands of com­plaints they re­ceive about elder abuse and how the state en­sures com­plaints are in­ves­ti­gated ad­e­quately.

Among the short­com­ings iden­ti­fied by the Of­fice of State In­spec­tor Gen­eral were fail­ures by some county-level agen­cies to prop­erly in­ves­ti­gate com­plaints un­der time­lines re­quired by state law and in­ad­e­quate staffing of the state of­fice that mon­i­tors those agen­cies.

A six-page sum­mary of the re­port re­leased this week also said in­ves­tiga­tive prac­tices aren’t stan­dard­ized across coun­ties and it crit­i­cized train­ing re­quire­ments for case­work­ers as far too weak, par­tic­u­larly com­pared to model states.

Com­plaints can in­volve phys­i­cal abuse, self-ne­glect or fi­nan­cial ex­ploita­tion and Penn­syl­va­nia,

Among the short­com­ings iden­ti­fied by the Of­fice of State In­spec­tor Gen­eral were fail­ures by some countylevel agen­cies to prop­erly in­ves­ti­gate com­plaints un­der time­lines re­quired by state law and in­ad­e­quate staffing of the state of­fice that mon­i­tors those agen­cies.

like other states, is see­ing a fast-grow­ing num­ber of com­plaints that has forced some coun­ties to hire more case­work­ers to keep up.

Gov. Tom Wolf’s ad­min­is­tra­tion said it has be­gun to ad­dress the re­port’s find­ings. In the days be­fore it re­leased the re­port’s sum­mary, Wolf cleared out the top two of­fi­cials in his De­part­ment of Ag­ing, which over­sees what is called pro­tec­tive ser­vices for peo­ple who are 60 and older.

The Penn­syl­va­nia As­so­ci­a­tion of Area Agen­cies on Ag­ing, which speaks for the 52 county-level agen­cies, said those or­ga­ni­za­tions and the De­part­ment of Ag­ing “have made sig­nif­i­cant im­prove­ments” since the in­spec­tor gen­eral’s in­ves­ti­ga­tion be­gan.

Wolf’s ad­min­is­tra­tion is not re­leas­ing the in­spec­tor gen­eral’s full 24-page re­port, although his of­fice said that, in re­leas­ing the sum­mary, it is be­ing more trans­par­ent than the state’s long-stand­ing prac­tice of keep­ing such re­ports con­fi­den­tial.

The As­so­ci­ated Press in 2017 re­viewed hun­dreds of pages of De­part­ment of Ag­ing records and found the per­for­mance of the countylevel

agen­cies var­ied widely. The de­part­ment’s re­view­ers had told some coun­ties that they had failed, some­times re­peat­edly , to meet reg­u­la­tions and ex­pec­ta­tions over prop­erly in­ves­ti­gat­ing com­plaints and log­ging case­work.

At times, de­part­ment of­fi­cials had de­manded that a county agency en­sure the safety of an al­leged vic­tim.

The AP also found wide dis­par­i­ties in how of­ten a county deemed a com­plaint to be wor­thy of a full in­ves­ti­ga­tion and ac­tion. The de­tails of com­plaints, in­ves­ti­ga­tions and the iden­tity of the per­son whose sit­u­a­tion is in ques­tion are kept se­cret.

Case­work­ers han­dled nearly 32,000 calls about po­ten­tial elder abuse in the 2017-18 fis­cal year, ac­cord­ing to de­part­ment records, up from 18,500 five years ear­lier.

Since 2011, the De­part­ment of Ag­ing has been led by peo­ple who came from a county-level agency. The de­part­ment does not re­port to an out­side, in­de­pen­dent agency or re­viewer.

Should a county-level agency fall down on the job, the de­part­ment re­serves the right to take over the task, or fire it and hire some other agency. It has never done that.

Wolf said last month that he is tap­ping Robert Tor­res

to lead the De­part­ment of Ag­ing af­ter 14 months as Wolf’s act­ing sec­re­tary of state. If con­firmed by the Se­nate, Tor­res would be­come the first sec­re­tary of ag­ing in eight years who did not come from one of the county-level agen­cies that the de­part­ment over­sees.

Wolf will nom­i­nate his first sec­re­tary of ag­ing, Teresa Os­borne, to a low­er­paid job on the Civil Ser­vice Com­mis­sion. Asked about the rea­son for leav­ing, Os­borne, in an email, did not bring up the in­spec­tor gen­eral’s re­port, and said she is look­ing for­ward to her new job on the com­mis­sion.

Wolf’s of­fice said the in­spec­tor gen­eral’s re­port had noth­ing to do with Os­borne’s re­moval. The ad­min­is­tra­tion said it ended the em­ploy­ment of the De­part­ment of Ag­ing’s No. 2 of­fi­cial on Fri­day, but de­clined com­ment on the rea­sons.

Frus­trated by short­com­ings they had iden­ti­fied in elder-abuse in­ves­ti­ga­tions, de­part­ment staff in 2017 be­gan grad­ing coun­ties on a more ag­gres­sive com­pli­ance sched­ule.

Since then, bet­ter than one third of the 52 countylevel area agen­cies on ag­ing have at one point re­ceived a sub­stan­dard red or yel­low rat­ing, ac­cord­ing to in­for­ma­tion from the de­part­ment.

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