HARRISBURG—The House Aging and Older Adult Services Committee, chaired by Rep. Thomas Murt (R-Montgomery/Philadelphia), joined the Senate Aging and Youth Committee to investigate the Office of the State Inspector General's (OSIG) report detailing the failure of local Area Agencies on Aging (AAA) to investigate cases of elder abuse and neglect in a timely manner as required by law.
“The report reveals an outrageous failure to fulfill our duty to older Pennsylvanians,” Murt said. “We must hold those responsible accountable, and make sure our AAAs are sufficiently funded to do their jobs.”
According to the report by the Office of State Inspector General, 43% of local AAAs have failed to complete investigations within 20 days as required by law. Another 20.4% failed to conduct face-to-face interviews within the first 72 hours of a report of abuse as the law requires.
In addition, the OSIG found that the Pennsylvania Department of Aging had failed to properly instruct AAA employees on how to categorize and investigate reports of elder abuse and recommended the Pennsylvania Department of Aging better train AAA workers.
However, Krista Geer, president of Pennsylvania Association of Area Agencies on Aging, said training is not enough.
“If adequate resources are not provided to our boots-on-the-ground staff who receive and investigate these reports, no amount of training or oversight will ever resolve these issues,” Geer said. “Until this current fiscal year, we have done so without any additional resources to allow us to hire additional staff to meet these increased demands,” Geer said.
“Unfortunately, elder abuse is on the rise in Pennsylvania,” said Robert Torres, Acting director of the Pennsylvania Department of Aging. “The department has experienced a continued increase in the number and complexity of elder abuse reports.” Torres said his department experienced a 60% increase in the number of reports received and a 61% increase in the number of reports substantiated from fiscal years 2014-15 to 2017-18.
“This trend has numerous causes – a growing aging population, increased awareness of protective services and increased ability to perpetrate financial exploitation, among others,” Torres said. “The problem is neither disappearing nor is it likely to decrease in the future. As a result, these factors place added pressure on the department and the AAAs’ resources to meet the needs of older adults at risk. The OSIG report highlighted these challenges and identified opportunities for improvement.”
Geer agreed that the needs of caring for the elderly go beyond investigating abuse. AAAs must also deliver meals and other personal care services.
“Do we provide someone with a meal, or do we create a waiting list of people who need to eat so we can have more staff doing investigations?” Geer said. “Those decisions are taking a toll.”
JR Reed, executive director of Lehigh County Office of Aging and Adult Services, argued that regulations need updating.
“It requires all reasonable efforts to finish an investigation within 20 days on abuse and neglect cases,” Reed said. “The OSIG investigation looked at all Older Adult Protective Service Act (OAPSA) cases, including financial exploitation, and provided statistics from all investigations. Financial exploitation cases take a longer time to complete because of obtaining financial records from various outside entities which subjects the case to the timeliness of the outside entities providing records.”
Reed also focused on the data collected by AAAs.
“The database needs to be updated to collect more datapoints and better statistics,” Reed said. “There needs to be a quicker way to capture when cases are over 20 days and the reason why.
Torres argued that many changes were underway when the OSIG began its investigation in May 2017.
“That work resulted in the creation of an updated monitoring tool and process used by the department for oversight,” Torres said. “This tool has helped standardize the process and measures by which AAAs are monitored.”
Prior to the implementation of this new monitoring protocol, each AAA was only monitored once annually, regardless of the findings. Now, not only are annual visits occurring, follow-up monitoring can occur every six months or quarterly, depending on the level of deficiencies identified in the prior monitoring visit.
“This has helped identify and address concerns more quickly and enabled the department to work collaboratively with the AAAs on addressing instances of noncompliance” Torres said. “The AAAs have been cooperative and diligent in their efforts to improve and meet the demand.”
Representative Thomas P. Murt, Ed.D.
Pennsylvania House of Representatives
Media Contact: David Foster