After weeks of intensive triage, state regulators have virtually eliminated a giant backlog of unresolved complaints alleging abuse and neglect at Minnesota senior care facilities, while also modernizing the state’s complaint-intake system.
The improvements mark a turning point in the state’s aggressive effort to catch up with a multiyear surge in maltreatment complaints by residents of nursing homes and assisted-living facilities. The cases included reports of neglect and financial exploitation, but also hundreds involving grave allegations of physical and sexual abuse.
The state began the year with 3,147 unresolved allegations, including 2,321 cases that had never been reviewed by state regulators. In addition to a surge of incoming complaints, state officials cited inadequate resources and inefficiencies at the Office of Health Facility Complaints (OHFC), a division of the Minnesota Department of Health, which handles abuse investigations.
By last year, the backlog had become so severe that it sometimes took OHFC investigators months or even years to complete investigations, angering relatives of abuse victims and sometimes undermining criminal investigations, according to a Star Tribune report published last November.
OHFC staff complained of unread complaints stacked 2 feet high on employees’ desks and going unread for months.
In mid-December, Gov. Mark Dayton responded by giving the much-larger Department of Human Services (DHS) sweeping new powers over the OHFC under a rare interagency agreement. Since then, DHS has sent a team of officials to help OHFC sort through thousands of unreviewed cases.
The results are dramatic: Every single case has now been reviewed, leaving just 430 cases that have been assigned for investigation but have not been resolved.
More significantly, the agency has ditched its antiquated, paper-based system for handling maltreatment complaints, which was partly to blame for the massive backlog. This week, the OHFC implemented an electronic system for processing the roughly 400 complaints of maltreatment it receives each week, and it should accelerate investigations and help prevent backlogs, officials said.
“This is what we needed to do to ensure the safety of our parents, our grandparents, and our loved ones across Minnesota,” said acting Human Services Commissioner Chuck Johnson at a news conference Thursday. “This puts the OHFC in a much better position going forward.”
Officials with the Dayton administration said they are preparing a package of legislative proposals aimed at improving oversight of Minnesota’s 1,800 senior care facilities and clarifying the rights of elder residents.