State officials outline progress in investigating reports of elder abuse

State officials say they've made progress in investigating reports of elder abuse and maltreatment in Minnesota.

Minnesota Commissioner of Health Jan Malcolm said Friday that the backlog of more than 3,000 reports and open cases of elder abuse has been reduced to 122 cases.

The update came after a series of stories in the Star Tribune reported that 97 percent of reports of abuse and neglect in senior homes in 2016 were never investigated by the state health department's Office of Health Facility Complaints.

Malcolm said staff members from the health department and the Minnesota Department of Human Services now are evaluating complaints faster.

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"How this has happened has been not only due to the extra hard work and extra resources from DHS but its been improvements to the way the work is done," Malcolm said.

For instance, Malcolm said that more than 400 complaints a week need to be checked out, and now they are given an initial review within two days of arriving.

Malcolm added that the department has introduced a new electronic system to manage complaints, which previously were filed and stored on paper.

Other improvements include better supervision of staff, and allowing staff to follow up on reports from the office rather than in person when appropriate.

Malcolm said that state legislators are considering more funding and reforms to manage and investigate claims of abuse, but she said she's concerned it doesn't go far enough.

"What the conference committee so far is heading toward is not anywhere close to the comprehensive approach (that Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton) has proposed and requires," she said.

Malcolm said the Legislature appears to be bending to the long-term care facility industry, which she said has opposed the reforms.