As part of its effort to improve the state's response to allegations of elder abuse, the Minnesota Health Department is seeking public comments about a new computer system to handle complaints filed against senior care homes.

Often the backbone of any regulatory agency, electronic information systems help state officials keep track of cases, assign work, process violations and inform outsiders about results, including family members and law enforcement agencies. A Star Tribune series published last November and a recent report by the state's Legislative Auditor documented breakdowns in the department's handling and investigation of abuse allegations, with the result that hundreds of complaints of serious abuse were going uninvestigated across the state.

"It is another key step in our ongoing work to improve our processes of managing the back end, if you will, of assuring quality in long-term care in Minnesota and the care of vulnerable adults," said Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm.

The department is seeking input from the general public about the types of information that its Office of Health Facility Complaints (OHFC) should provide to the public as well as families or patients who file complaints.

It is also seeking cost and technical information from vendors about information systems that could meet the needs of the regulatory office and its many statutory duties.

In addition to investigating complaints about nursing homes and assisted living facilities, the office also investigates hospitals, boarding care and supervised-living facilities and home-health agencies.

In March, Legislative Auditor James Nobles found that OHFC lacked "an effective case-management system, which has contributed to lost files and poor decisions regarding resource allocation."

Calling the system "antiquated," Malcolm acknowledged that the "lack of functionality was not high enough on our radar screen."

Last month, the department said that an aggressive triage effort had virtually eliminated a backlog of 3,000 unresolved elder abuse allegations that had piled up in recent years.

Health officials are looking for feedback by May 4 and will post responses on its OHFC webpage by May 9, according to the request for information.

"We know that it is going to take awhile and that the Legislature is ultimately going to have to agree to fund this installation of a new system so we wanted to start the process just as early as we could," Malcom said.

Malcolm said she expects that funds for the new system will be requested in the budget proposal for the next biennium.

Glenn Howatt • 612-673-7192