State government responds to complaints of elder abuse, neglect

At a Senate hearing Wednesday, the head of the State Health Department apologized for a failure to protect vulnerable adults in nursing homes and assisted living centers. Now, officials are trying to get to the bottom of the neglect.

Since December, eight people from the Human Services Department have been working with Department of Health investigators to get through the back log. But, victim advocates and even lawmakers are still exasperated that elder abuse continues.

The heat from state senators has only intensified as families continue to tell stories of elder abuse and neglect.

"In my case, my father's body laid in his room for seven days without the facility doing a wellness check,” said Kristine Sunberg with Elder Voices Family Advocates.  

As of Jan. 1, senators were told the state has a backlog to 826 pending abuse and neglect cases. Human Services Commissioner Emily Piper said the goal is to complete them by the end of the year, if not sooner.

“We know that as we get our arms around and get new information on the backlog and more specificity, we believe this date will be pushed up significantly," Piper said.

While the health department takes heat for poor oversight, Governor Dayton blamed providers.

"First and foremost, they are the ones to blame for these egregious abuses," he said Wednesday.

The governor's own task force on elder abuse intends to give him four recommendations on Friday: strengthen the rights of vulnerable adults in state statutes, enhance civil and criminal penalties, create more consumer protections and increase the licensing requirements for elder care providers.

“We believe in increasing the fines in a residential setting in cases of egregious injuries and death," said Mary Jo George with AARP.  

All of this comes after the department of health was accused of not doing enough.

"If we he failed even a single vulnerable adult in this state, we owe them an apology, and I apologize," said Dan Pollock, acting MDH Commissioner.      
However, Senator Karin Housley questions whether too much damage has already been done.

"It was nice to hear an apology. Is it too late for some of those families? I think for some of them, yeah," she said.
The governor’s goal is to drive new legislation for the session that begins Feb. 20.