ST. PAUL – The newly signed state budget includes millions of dollars in additional funding for the state agency responsible for investigating complaints of nursing home abuse and neglect.
The Office of Health Facility Complaints says it’s been swamped with a huge increase in the number of complaints into their state hotline. In 2016 alone, more than 24,000 complaints came in both from care facilities and from the public. But the state only fully investigated a handful of them.
KARE 11 spoke with families who believed their loved ones were neglected in nursing homes and later died.
Mary Cleary’s children recorded a haunting cell phone video of her just weeks before she died. She recounted how she broke both legs when a nursing home aide used an EZ Stand to put her to bed.
“I think they were broken when I fell,” Cleary said in the video. But she claimed the aides didn’t believe her. “They said, ‘Oh you didn’t break any bones’ and I said I know I did. I could kind of hear them,” she said.
The nursing home filled out the mandated state report, but Mary’s family was never contacted and state regulators never saw her video. They closed the case without a full investigation.
That’s not rare. According to the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH), only about one percent of cases reported by care facilities themselves receive a full on-site investigation. Just 10 percent of complaints from the public receive the full investigation.
MDH blamed a lack of staffing, saying with only 27 investigators, there is no way they could possibly investigate more than 24,000 complaints in a year.
The legislature and Governor Dayton agreed to additional funding to address the problem. In a special session, they added nearly $9 million to better protect vulnerable adults. State lawmakers say that will allow the Office of Health Facility Complaints to add 11 investigators next year and eventually increase their numbers by 23 full-time positions.
Gill Acevedo of the Department of Health told KARE 11 extra people will mean they can be more proactive in preventing serious harm.
“We’re hopeful that when we have cases where we see a pattern that we’ll be able to get out to those cases and take a look at what’s really happening here,” Acevedo said.
Minnesota lawmakers say MDH also needs to streamline their processes and be more efficient in their work. The legislative auditor is currently reviewing how the state investigates complaints of abuse and neglect of vulnerable adults.