St. Paul - Members of the Consumer Workgroup on Elder Abuse commend the Office of Legislative Auditor’s (OLA) report on the Office of Health Facility Complaints (OHFC). The report brings needed transparency and accountability to a department that has been plagued by an inability to investigate elder abuse complaints in a timely manner.
“Families and their loved ones are grateful for the OLA's comprehensive review," said Kris Sundberg from Elder Voice Family Advocates, member of the Consumer Workgroup. "While we’re hopeful the agency will rapidly implement their recommendations, we still need to address the issues that are at the root of abuse, and work toward prevention. This abuse is not inevitable, and our members expect fundamental reform in 2018 as recommended in the Elder Abuse Workgroup report.”
“Stronger protections for elderly residents in assisted living facilities, improved rights for older vulnerable adults, and efforts to pursue abuse aggressively are all needed this year. Half measures won’t do,” said Will Phillips, State Director of AARP. “The report addressed our concerns by stating that, ‘Even if OHFC makes needed changes, some vulnerable adults will receive less protection than others due to Minnesota’s regulatory structure. Many vulnerable adults in Minnesota live in housing with services establishments, but these facilities are subject to limited state regulatory oversight because they are registered (not licensed) by MDH.’”
In addition to reforming OHFC, the Workgroup calls for action in three areas:
1. Assisted Living Licensure: When it comes to regulating long-term care facilities, there isn’t a level playing field in Minnesota. Nursing homes are licensed and therefore regulated, but assisted-living facilities aren’t required to have licenses. The population in assisted living settings, 40% of whom are living with dementia, requires more care compared to when these facilities were first introduced over 20 years ago. Assisted living has evolved and now needs to be fixed. Few consumer protections exist in these settings, making Minnesota an outlier from other states. Minnesota families need to know that no matter what setting they choose, their loved ones will have the same basic protections, including discharge rights; adequate staffing levels; staff training requirements and safety standards, especially for people living with dementia.
2. More Rights for Seniors: Too much of the power resides in the hands of providers, with too little in the hands of residents and their families. Many older, vulnerable adults and their families are fearful to speak out about quality of care for fear of being retaliated against, often resulting in poorer care. This could range from life-threatening maltreatment, to a call light unanswered, to sudden bill increases. A frequent result is that the resident is required to find a new place to live, evicted without a right to appeal. Also, despite the fact that seniors pay thousands of dollars a month, the rights of residents and families to put cameras in their rooms is being restricted even if they suspect abuse. This power imbalance must change.
3. Pursue Abuse Aggressively: Laws must be strengthened to allow families and vulnerable adults to enforce their rights. We must strengthen our civil and criminal laws to hold abusers accountable. For example, under Minnesota laws today, a civil claim against abuse dies when the elder dies of causes unrelated to abuse, resulting in situations where facilities or insurers can simply delay providing medical information. Minnesota is one of only two states where this abhorrent policy exists, and the time has come to end it.
State regulators need to do a better job of identifying abuse and responding aggressively. Lapsed enforcement has created an environment where abusers do not fear consequences. When the maximum fine is only $5,000, in cases involving serious harm including death, facilities have few consequences or motivation to change their behavior.
In response to the high level of abuse cases, Governor Dayton appointed AARP, Alzheimer’s Association, Elder Voice Family Advocates, Minnesota Elder Justice Center, and Legal Aid to develop recommendations on ways to improve: regulatory oversight by the Minnesota Department of Health; and quality of care in nursing homes and assisted living facilities to prevent abuse from occurring in the first place.