Bump prods Baker on elder abuse reporting

Administration cites improvement; says lapses were small

STATE AUDITOR SUZANNE BUMP is prodding the Baker administration to do a better job of referring serious cases of elder abuse to district attorneys for possible prosecution, but state officials say they have already stepped up their game and any problems that have occurred were confined to a small number of cases.

An audit by Bump’s office indicates the Baker administration’s office of elder affairs failed to report seven serious cases of elder abuse, including a threat of murder, to district attorneys for possible prosecution, contrary to what Massachusetts law requires. There were also six cases of elder abuse reported to the district attorneys that lacked adequate documentation, and other cases that were reported after set time limits.

The audit focused on 190 incidents of alleged elder abuse from July 2015 to June 2017, a tiny fraction of the total. In just the final year of that two-year period, for example, 9,700 allegations of elder neglect or abuse were confirmed.

The 190 incidents dealt with elders who died while abuse investigations involving them were in the process of being investigated. Those cases were selected because they were seen as the ones most likely to require referrals to district attorneys.

Elder abuse can take various forms, ranging from physical abuse to sexual abuse, from caregiver neglect to self-neglect, from emotional abuse to physical and sexual abuse.  Some 20 community-based, non-profit protective service agencies across the state gather incidents of abuse by phone, email, and other means; investigate the allegations; and then refer them to law enforcement if warranted.

State regulations require serious allegations of abuse to be passed along to law enforcement officials immediately in the case of a person’s death and within 48 hours otherwise. Bump’s office found those reporting requirements were not met in seven of the 190 cases studied.

One of the seven cases of elder abuse that the state agency failed to report to a district attorney involved a decade of emotional abuse of an elderly woman by an alleged perpetrator who threatened to kill her, making her afraid to stay in her home.

Another of the seven cases involved caregiver neglect in which a bedridden elderly person with a fractured hip had developed stage four bed sores — the most dangerous type — that literally went “right down to the bone,” according to the audit.

The audit provided no additional information on the cases or any explanation for why they weren’t reported to the local district attorney’s office.

In a press release announcing the audit, the auditor’s office said its findings prompted the elder affairs office to begin addressing the problems.

That statement did not sit well with the Baker administration’s elder affairs office, which said it takes any instance of non-compliance seriously and has already followed up with the “small number” of cases cited in the report.

“The Executive Office of Elder Affairs began a systematic overhaul of its protective services program in 2015 to better protect all elders from abuse and neglect. That progress is not accurately reflected in this outdated audit,” an agency spokesman said in a statement. “Long before the auditor began her more than year-long review, this administration made investing in and improving the protective service system a top priority.”

The spokesman noted the budget for the protective services program has increased from $22.8 million to $31.6 million over the last four years.

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David Hoey, a Massachusetts attorney who specializes in elder abuse cases in nursing homes, said the issue is a serious one and likely to become bigger over time. He noted more than 25 percent of the state’s population will be 60 or older by 2030, an increase of 33 percent since 2012.

“If EOEA doesn’t get its act together on elder abuse, the problem will only get worse as the Massachusetts population continues to age,” Hoey said.