Investigation shows improvements to system protecting seniors

Adult Protective Services has since improved training for staff, expanded outreach to law enforcement and revised its intake policies to respond more quickly to urgent cases.

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Adult Protective Services has since improved training for staff, expanded outreach to law enforcement and revised its intake policies to respond more quickly to urgent cases.

2020 state audit uncovered widespread issues with Adult Protective Services,

Georgia’s system to protect seniors and vulnerable adults from abuse has made vast improvements in the past few years, after a scathing state audit exposed failures within the agency.

In 2020, a state audit uncovered widespread issues with Adult Protective Services, the agency that investigates allegations of abuse and neglect in the elderly and adults with disabilities. Investigators were not responding quickly enough to high-priority cases, and staffers were rejecting reports that should have been investigated. In one alarming statistic, over the course of a year about 500 adults in serious situations waited at least three days before an investigator arrived.

But the agency took that feedback seriously, according to a follow-up investigation from the Georgia Department of Audits and Accounts.

Adult Protective Services, which handles tens of thousands of abuse cases each year, has since improved training for staff, expanded outreach to law enforcement and revised its intake policies to respond more quickly to urgent cases. The agency is part of the Division of Aging Services within the Department of Human Services.

“DHS’ Division of Aging Services has made many modifications to streamline the intake process to ensure reports of abuse and neglect are investigated as quickly as possible and that investigators have eyes on the vulnerable,” Kylie Winton, a spokesperson for the Georgia Department of Human Services, said in the statement.

Among some of the key changes: the agency now has an accelerated process to ensure that cases are being handled in a timely fashion, and there are now additional checks to make sure staffers are properly documenting why a case decision was made. APS has developed a report to track data from an intake call to the date of initial face-to-face contact, and managers are trained to review this report monthly.

The initial audit found that law enforcement officers don’t report all cases of abuse to the agency. Officers said they preferred to handle cases themselves, either because they think Adult Protective Services is overworked or due to a negative experience they had with the agency.

APS has improved its outreach to law enforcement and other mandated reporters, or professionals who are required by law to report cases of abuse. The agency has also increased the number of trained officials in law enforcement who specialize in recognizing and responding to abuse cases. What’s more, supervisors and managers at Adult Protective Services are now evaluated on their outreach to mandated reporters.

And yet, the follow-up report found some areas for improvement.

For example, the initial audit also took aim at the way APS manages calls for help. The office only accepts calls from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Friday. That can lead to delays for reports that come in at night and on weekends, when the agency’s website is the only way to report a call.

The follow-up report said APS still only accepts live calls from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. But the Department of Human Services, which oversees APS, said they have since changed the policy. Winton, the DHS spokesperson, said APS has expanded its hours from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., and reporters are also able to submit a report online at any time.

The audit also found another major gap that needs legislative change: the 2020 audit found that some state agencies that serve adults with disabilities are not required to report abuse or exploitation cases to APS. For example, the 2020 audit found that the Georgia Vocational Rehabilitation Agency, which serves approximately 35,000 adults with disabilities, only reported eight cases of abuse from fiscal year 2015 to 2018.

But no changes have been made to the law to classify their workers as mandatory reporters. The DHS spokesperson said in a statement that it is “actively working” on a legislative proposal to expand the list of mandated reporters.