Politics & Government

State officials ‘deeply concerned’ about backlog of 2,100 complaints against adult care providers

Overall, state officials have improved how quickly they investigate complaints of abuse against the elderly and other vulnerable adults.

But in one area they say Washington still has far to go: addressing a backlog of more than 2,000 complaints about treatment of adults living in residential care facilities.

According to the state’s latest quarterly reports, 2,154 complaints against residential care providers “have not yet been addressed and are overdue as of September 23, 2015.”

That means staff have yet to evaluate those cases or start investigating them, said Kevin Quigley, secretary of the state Department of Social and Health Services, at a Sept. 30 meeting with Gov. Jay Inslee and other state officials.

2,154 Complaints against adult residential care providers that have not been addressed

10,000 Total investigations handled by the state’s Residential Care Services division in fiscal year 2015

While the complaints against adult care providers don’t generally include allegations of serious abuse or neglect, the backlog is concerning because it may include allegations that could affect patient safety if they aren’t addressed quickly, said Bill Moss, assistant secretary of the state’s Aging and Long-Term Support Administration.

For example, Quigley said, the 2,100 unevaluated complaints could include cases in which a nursing facility or adult family home repeatedly fails to lock its doors, leaving patients vulnerable to wandering outside, or complaints alleging sexual contact between adult patients that may or may not be consensual.

“It’s not the immediate jeopardy type of thing, but it is important that we get out and investigate those cases,” Moss said Tuesday. “It could turn into something much more serious if it’s not corrected.”

Quigley said he was “deeply concerned” about the complaint backlog, but said the problem should improve in the next two years because the Legislature recently provided more funding for investigators.

As of September, the state had about 70 full-time investigators working to investigate provider practice complaints, but by June 2017 that will increase to about 93 full-time investigators, according to state projections.

Additional staff are required to keep the seniors and residents of living facilities safe, to ensure they are getting the highest quality of care.

Walt Bowen, president of Washington State Senior Citizens’ Lobby

That should help reduce the backlog of complaints at residential care facilities by about 75 percent, cutting it down to about 500 cases, according to agency estimates.

Still, predictions that the state’s over-65 population will increase dramatically in the next decade have advocates for senior citizens worried that even more investigators may be needed.

While the 2010 census found that about 12.3 percent of Washingtonians were 65 or older, that population is projected to swell to more than 20 percent by 2030, according to the state Office of Financial Management.

Walt Bowen, president of the Washington State Senior Citizens’ Lobby, said members of his organization remain concerned about the “overwhelming” number of complaints in residential care settings and expect that the coming “age wave” will only exacerbate the problem.

Moss said the state’s Residential Care Services division handled 10,000 investigations into residential care providers in fiscal year 2015.

20.3% Percentage of Washingtonians projected to be 65 or older by 2030

“The number of investigators staffed at Residential Care Services is not keeping pace with the number of complaints received or the amount of time these investigations require,” Bowen told Inslee and other officials last month.

“Additional staff are required to keep the seniors and residents of living facilities safe, to ensure they are getting the highest quality of care.”

The state’s Adult Protective Services division, which investigates claims of abuse against vulnerable adults, has also experienced a sharp increase in the number of complaints it handles annually.

In the 2008 fiscal year, the state handled about 12,000 investigations into abuse of vulnerable adults; in fiscal year 2015 the number of adult abuse investigations rose to 22,500, according to state data.

Quigley said that flood of complaints is one reason the state has recently had trouble closing some adult abuse investigations quickly, especially in 2013 and 2014.

The state has already improved in that area, however. In 2014, about 63 percent of vulnerable adult abuse investigations were completed within 90 days, but by the second quarter of 2015, the state completed 82 percent of adult abuse investigations within 90 days.

How to report cases of elder abuse

If you suspect abuse or neglect of a vulnerable adult, call 1-866-ENDHARM (1-866-363-4276). The same number works for cases of child abuse.

Call 911 if a child or an adult is in an emergency situation.