There is no doubt that there are shortcomings in the investigation of elder abuse. Pennsylvania wants to take a harder line with county agencies that were tasked with fielding nearly 30,000 complaints last year.
The Pennsylvania Department of Aging has begun grading counties on a more aggressive compliance schedule, after giving some notification that they’d failed, sometimes repeatedly, to meet regulations and expectations on how complaints must be handled.
Some of the issues identified by state inspectors included failures to show investigations had started within the timeframe required by state law and inadequately investigating a complaint and logging the casework.
The Department of Aging inspects the performance of 52 county-level agencies tasked with fielding and responding to complaints that can involve physical abuse, self-neglect, or financial exploitation. These problems have raised questions from state inspectors as to whether people were left in danger. Their warnings have included orders to immediately investigate a complaint.
A county could now have just four months to improve its protective services for people who are 60 and older before it loses the responsibility. If a county agency doesn’t get the job done, Pennsylvania reserves the right to take over the task, or fire it and hire some other agency. It’s never done that.
Pennsylvania's caseworkers handled 29,000 calls about potential elder abuse in the 2016-17 fiscal year, according to department records. The call volume has tripled in recent years and is expected to continue rising, as Pennsylvania ages.
Some county officials believe the measurements can be subjective, and that protective services can improve with training and additional staff. County officials sometimes blame turnover or staffing issues and claim that violations can be just a failure to enter information into a state-monitored database, rather than a total failure to properly investigate.
The new protocol will grade counties: green for good; yellow for significant or repetitive problems; and red for significant or repetitive problems that put someone at risk.
Reference: US News (December 16, 2017) “Pennsylvania Pushes Counties to Improve Elder-Abuse Casework”