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April 21, 2012

 VERMONT:   Elder Abuse Investigations On The Rise
By James Jardine
Staff Writer
4/18/2012

The State of Vermont has begun addressing complaints of poor performance against the agency responsible for investigating and resolving claims of exploitation and abuse against vulnerable adults, according to Dr. Susan Wehry, the Commissioner of the Dept. of Disabilities, Aging and Independent Living (DAIL).
Wehry stated in a recent interview that allegations contained in a recent lawsuit against the State have largely been addressed and resolved. The suit charged that Adult Protective Services (APS), part of the DAIL, failed to commence investigations within 48 hours of receiving complaints of elder abuse or exploitation, failed to complete investigations in a timely manner and failed to offer or arrange protective services when necessary.
According to the suit, "Hundreds of reports of abuse, neglect and exploitation wait for months before being investigated."
The suit, brought in Washington Superior Court against the Vermont Agency of Human Services by two individuals -- the Community of Vermont Elders and an organization named Disability Rights Vermont -- leveled the charges against the DAIL.
The Complaint, filed in December, 2011, led to a decision by Judge Michael Kurpersmith that dismissed the two individuals as parties to the complaint and dismissed a breach of contract claim contained in the suit. Judge Kupersmith will give Plaintiffs until May 7 to refile a mandamus claim because the original claim seeking an order failed to state a claim.
Ken Gordon, Director of the Area Agency on Aging in St. Johnsbury, said the allegations of an inadequate response by the State of Vermont represents a "long standing problem for many years with the APS." Gordon said the problem reflects an "inadequate commitment of resources," by the State that "crosses administrations."
According to Gordon, "the State has been pretty open that it has not followed its own guidelines." Gordon said that "with the economic downturn things got worse as state government was downsized." Saying his Agency "has been talking with the State for five years," about enforcement, Gordon said a year ago there were four investigators working for the State investigating elder abuse and there are now 12 investigators. "They've been able to clear up a lot of the backlog" Gordon noted, adding the increased number of investigators has made "responses more timely."

Doug Racine, is the Secretary of the Agency of Human services, which oversees DAIL, acknowledges there have been problems and says former Governor Jim Douglas left DAIL "in a mess." Racine stated the fact the State only had four investigators on the job when Racine took over was an example of how bad things had gotten.
Dr. Wehry states she believes that since the lawsuit was filed, the State has cleared up a backlog of 400 pending cases of elder abuse and exploitation that were unresolved, and the backlog has now been reduced to zero. She said a year or two ago, the APS did not even have the ability to track pending cases and could not check on the status of a case. New software programming has been installed to help manage case investigations.
Gordon says the investigation of abuse is not as cut and dry as a criminal investigation by the police, and it may take many months before an investigation is completed. One statistic cited by Gordon is that eight or nine out of ten cases of elder abuse involve a family member "or a person known to the victim." Because of theses factors, elder abuse cases are "hard to prosecute" and because family members are often involved in the abuse, "for every report of abuse that's made, there are 23 events not reported."
On occasion, caregivers may abuse an elderly person by diverting medicine away from the patient and abusing the diverted medication. In all of these areas of elder abuse, it is the state's duty to respond to allegations of abuse, investigate them and, if their is a problem, implement a plan to resolve the situations. Individuals found to have abused the elderly are put on an Adult Abuse Registry which is used by nursing homes and adult day services to avoid hiring employees assiociated with elder abuse.

 SOURCE:      The Orleans County Record

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