ST. PAUL, Minn. – Governor Mark Dayton is calling on the legislature to review a law critics say keeps families of vulnerable adults from getting the full story about cases of abuse and neglect.
Dayton wants lawmakers look at how state regulators balance the needs of families with the need to protect whistleblowers. The governor says in part, “I am very concerned that current state law prevents family members from knowing that their loved ones may be facing unsafe living conditions in an assisted care facility.”
His statement is a response to a KARE 11 Investigation into secrecy in the process of investigating those complaints.
Suzanne Edwards’ case highlights the issue. Secretly recorded cell phone videos appear to show two aides at Lino Lakes Assisted Living taunting and demeaning Suzanne.
“Go to bed,” the aide screams at Suzanne in one video. In another both women taunt Suzanne, singing “I’m going to live longer than you,” and “I can wipe my own ass.” In other audio recordings, the two aides are heard laughing at Suzanne because she is not wearing underwear, calling it “disgusting,” and telling her she smells.
Chanta Hampton and Sarah Mills are criminally charged with Stalking and Criminal Abuse of Vulnerable Adult as a result of the incident. Both entered pleas of not guilty.
A criminal complaint alleges that the two women also pulled out a lighter and put the flame near Suzanne’s face, made multiple threats against her and pulled her nightgown up exposing the 70-year-old patient’s nude body.
But Suzanne Edwards’ son, Kent Edwards says he didn’t learn any of those details for months. Lino Lakes Assisted Living had called police and state regulators with the Department of Health. But Edwards, who is his mother’s health agent, says when he called the Department of Health looking for a copy of Lino Lakes’ report, he was stonewalled.
“They do not share that information,” he says. “There’s an investigation going on about alleged abuse of your mother and nobody would tell you anything about it?” KARE 11 asked. “Not at all.”
To encourage whistleblowers, state law says the identities of people who report abuse need to be protected. But state officials also tell KARE 11 they cannot even share details of the alleged abuse with victims or their families until they conduct a full investigation.
The problem is according to the Minnesota Department of Health’s own statistics they only do full investigations in one percent of cases reported by facilities.
After KARE 11’S report, Governor Dayton expressed his concern about balancing the needs of families and those who report abuse, saying “their need for information must be weighed carefully against protection for the people, who report those incidents.” The Governor said he “will encourage the State Legislature to review this law in the next Legislative Session.”
State Senator Karin Housley, (R-Stillwater) has also said she wants to look at the issue.
“The system is definitely not working as it should,” she told KARE 11. “That’s a law that needs to change.”