KENT COUNTY, Mich. (WOOD) — The state agency in charge of protecting the elderly, mentally disabled and other vulnerable adults is not doing what it should to ensure that abuse and neglect complaints are being quickly and thoroughly investigated, a new audit finds.
The report issued Wednesday found that some of the problems uncovered in an 2014 audit of Michigan’s Adult Protective Services were not fixed as promised.
The State Auditor General’s report said the agency failed to have a system in place to determine if it was effectively protecting vulnerable adults.
MISSING PLAN, NOT ENOUGH CASE REVIEWS
In June 2015, the agency said it was going to develop and implement a plan to evaluate its services. Five months later, that plan was still not in place, the federal inspectors concluded.
The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services admitted Wednesday that it had failed to make some of the improvements it was supposed to make.
“We must do more to protect vulnerable adults,” said Bob Wheaton, spokesperson for the MDHHS.
In 2014, the auditor found that Adult Protective Services did not follow up to see if case workers fully addressed allegations, finished service plans and met face-to-face with clients.
This year, the auditor found the number of closed cases that were reviewed only improved slightly, from 22 percent to 27 percent.
“We’re continuing to implement corrective actions because protecting vulnerable residents of Michigan, whether they’re children on adults, is a top priority of our department,” Wheaton said.
In abuse reports, the agency is supposed to make some kind of initial contact within 24 hours and face-to-face contact within 72 hours.
The newest report finds the agency improved its abuse case response time during the past two years, but could still do better.
Kent County’s Adult Protective Services agency was the worst in the state for abuse case response time, according to the audit. Between March 2015 and March of 2016, 16 percent of complainants were not contacted within 24 hours and 22 percent did not get face-to-face contact within 72 hours.
“There are high expectations and there should be high expectations when it comes to protecting people who aren’t able to protect themselves,” Wheaton said. “Time is of the essence in investigating these cases, so our central office is working with our county offices to make sure that they are making the necessary contacts.”
The report did show Adult Protective Services has made strides in ensuring all reports of abuse and neglect were investigated.
“These vulnerable adults are safer than they were in 2014,” Wheaton said.
Auditors also found Adult Protective Services is improving in its overall response to abuse allegations, making sure all allegations are reviewed.
NOT ENOUGH WORKERS?
Kay Scholle is an independent advocate working with the Area Agency on Aging who says it should come as no surprise that the agency is having trouble doing its job.
“They have 124 individuals that respond to concerns about abuse to children, but you go back to the fact that we have only six or eight (workers) for the whole adult population,” Scholle explained.
Scholle says Adult Protective Services workers are overwhelmingly dedicated and genuinely concerned, but she says new strategies without more staff won’t help.
In Kent County, complaints have nearly doubled since 2000 to more than 20,000 complaints a year, state records show.
“Don’t set yourself up for failure when you don’t have the good basis to do that,” Scholle said.
The auditor will continue to monitor the progress of Michigan’s Adult Protective Services, but made no recommendations for additional staff.