By Kerry Kavanaugh and Marina Villeneuve
On its website, the Massachusetts Executive Office of Elder Affairs says it supports older adults and individuals with disabilities to ‘age in community’ so they can live well and be safe.
But a recent report from the Office of the State Auditor flagged some areas where Elder Affairs has come up short for years – despite promising to make fixes.
“There were gaps in the system and that elders were being put at risk due to a lack of oversight and a lack of controls,” State Auditor Diana DiZoglio said.
DiZoglio said those issues were first brought to the attention of the Executive Office of Elder Affairs years earlier in a previous audit report issued in October of 2018.
“Even though the Executive Office of Elder Affairs said that they had implemented the recommendations made from the previous audit, they hadn’t actually done so,” DiZoglio said.
Regional Protective Service Agencies are required to investigate information from reports of alleged abuse of elders.
Agencies must refer all substantiated reports of serious abuse to the local district attorney.
Agencies are required to make immediate referrals to district attorneys if an elderly person dies because of abuse. And agencies have 48 hours in other instances – including in case of brain damage or sexual assault.
The office had told the state auditor that it began monitoring the district attorney referral process as of February 2019.
But during the course of the current audit, the office told the auditor it wasn’t running monthly queries of its system to figure out whether all required incidents of elder abuse were referred to a district attorney.
“Unfortunately, it took us conducting an entirely new audit of the same things we had audited previously to uncover the fact that Elder Affairs had not done what they said they had done,” she added.
Among the concerns listed in the audit:
- The office did not establish controls to ensure all applicable incidents of elder abuse are reported to district attorneys’ offices for investigations.
- And the office wasn’t monitoring the use of certain tools to ensure they’re properly assessing the decisional capacity of elders.
“That’s unacceptable,” she said. “It puts elders at risk and it wastes taxpayer dollars.”
Her audit found that the office’s failure to monitor district attorney referrals “put elders at risk of continued abuse.”
In the initial audit, the report found seven instances in which the office did not properly report allegations of abuse to DAs.
25 Investigates reached out to the Executive Office of Elder Affairs and asked to speak with Secretary Elizabeth Chen.
They declined an interview but a spokesperson said in a statement: “We are actively taking steps to address the recommendations in the auditor’s report and to strengthen this process on behalf of the people we serve.”
The office launched a program to improve training and monitoring of regional agency staff.
The spokesperson also said the office has now implemented a monthly reporting system to monitor how regional Protective Services Agencies are reporting allegations of abuse to district attorney’s offices.
The office told the auditor that it’s working on an automated system to monitor DA referrals over the next year.
The issues raised in the audit are in line with a trend we’ve heard from Boston 25 News viewers.
“I’m just so glad someone is listening to my story,” Kathy Mcleod, who’s fighting for answers about the death of her brother following a fall at a nursing home, told Anchor and Investigative Reporter Kerry Kavanaugh. “Finally, for him. I just want justice for him.”
Family members have told us they reached out to various state and local agencies asking for help for loved ones in nursing homes – and got nowhere.
“We want our elderly population to be able to trust that they’re in good hands and that if there is potential abuse, that it’s going to be reported in an effective and efficient manner,” DiZoglio said.
Elder abuse includes physical, sexual, and emotional abuse, caretaker neglect, financial exploitation, and self-neglect.
Elder Abuse reports can be filed 24 hours a day either online or by phone at (800) 922-2275.
McLeod said she called that very number in February of 2023 to report what happened to her brother.
He had dementia, wandered into another patient’s room, fell, suffered a fracture and died as a result of his injury earlier that month.
She says she never even got a call back.