Senior Care Advocates Call for Changes at Senate Hearing

January 25, 2018 09:09 AM

Senior care advocates are demanding legislators pass stricter laws to ensure complaints of abuse, neglect and maltreatment in nursing homes and assisted living facilities are properly investigated.

The Senate Committee on Aging and Long-Term Care held a hearing Wednesday to address dysfunction and investigative failures within the Office of Heath Facility Complaints.


RELATED: Legislators to Address Reported Lapses in Oversight of State's Senior Care Facilities

Last year, legislators learned the Office of Health Facility Complaints was investigating just 1 percent of self-reported provider complaints and only 10 percent of maltreatment complaints.

In 2016, 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS found a majority of maltreatment investigations were not completed within 60 days as required by state law, leading to a large backload of cases.

RELATED: Minnesota Health Commissioner Exits After Senior Care Lapses

"How long did the Minnesota Department of Health know this was going on and cover it up," asked Republican Senator Karin Housley.

"I have to say it's been disappointing to learn what's been happening for the last I don't know how many years," she added.


Daniel Pollock, acting commissioner of the state Department of Health, accepted responsibility for the department's failures.

"We openly acknowledge that in recent years the Office of Health Facility Complaints really has not met the reasonable and appropriate expectations of Minnesotans when it comes to investigating maltreatment complaints in a timely way," Pollock said.

RELATED: State Rep. Wants Answers to Minnesota Nursing Home Investigation Delays

Wednesday's hearing kicked off with testimony from senior care advocates, who shared their own painful stories.

Kristine Sundberg, the President of Elder Voice, outlined reports of sexual assault, physical abuse and malnourishment. She said her father's body had been left in his room at a senior care facility for an entire week without a welfare check.

"It was even more distressing when two of the residents came to my son and said they were scared for themselves," Sundberg said. "Nobody should be afraid to live in these senior care facilities."

Sundberg called on legislators to force facilities to allow cameras to be placed in rooms at assisted living facilities. She also suggested the establishment of minimum staffing ratios, and an increase in the frequency of mandatory inspections.

"We believe that stronger regulatory oversight of these facilities, their owners, the administrators and care givers is essential before we stop this epidemic of abuse," Sundberg said.

The Department of Human Services (DHS) has assigned an eight person team to help reduce backlog and improve investigations. DHS Commissioner Emily Piper said there are currently 821 investigations that need to be completed, and more than 2,300 unaddressed complaints.

RELATED: Legislative Auditor Set to Review Programs that Oversee Vulnerable Minnesotans

The legislature has added nearly $9 million to be spent over the next two years to hire more investigators and reduce caseloads.

Piper added long-term fixes include updating technology from the 1980s and transitioning from outdated paper files to an electronic database.


Eric Chaloux

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