State task force calls for tougher penalties following abuse case backlog

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A system meant to protect Minnesota seniors from abuse and violence in formal care setting settings must be repaired by providing more thorough oversight and tougher penalties, a work group headed by AARP Minnesota announced Monday.

Its 59-page report calls for “immediate and dramatic” reforms to address “a broken system of care and regulatory oversight that has failed to protect Minnesota's older and vulnerable adults from horrific abuse in nursing homes and housing with services and assisted living settings.”

Gov. Mark Dayton (D) called for the group's creation in November, following the publication of a Star Tribune series that documented in sobering details the state's failure to investigate hundreds of beatings, sexual assaults and robberies statewide.

The state's top official resigned and two others are being investigated in connection with a backlog of unreviewed cases.

The report calls for tougher penalties against both abusers and the facilities where serious abuse occurs; state laws that give victims and their families access to incident reports and record nursing home actions; more prosecution; and increased oversight of the assisted-living industry, which operates under less regulation than nursing homes.

“The problems in the regulatory system demand immediate and dramatic fixes,” the report states. “Regulatory oversight is a critical element in ensuring appropriate care for older and vulnerable adults…. However, regulatory agency reform does not provide the entire answer. An equally important response to the crisis entails giving older and vulnerable adults – and their families – stronger consumer protection tools.”

The panel also emphasized the need to restore trust in Minnesota's regulatory system.

In 2016, the state's Office of Health Facility Complaints investigated 10% of the 3,400 complaints it received from the public and less than 1% of the 21,000 self-reported complaints.

Earlier this month, the head of the Department of Human Services said her agency is working with the health department to reduce the backlog. Commissioner Emily Piper told state senators that employees described a “toxic and disrespectful” work environment, and that likely contributed to high turnover among agency workers who should have been investigating complaints.