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Dayton orders task force to look into elder abuse following 'appalling' reports of neglect, assault and theft

Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton said he will form a task force to find out why the state of Minnesota has failed to investigate thousands of complaints of theft, physical abuse and sexual assault of residents of senior care facilities. Forum News Service file photo.

ST. PAUL — Gov. Mark Dayton said he will form a task force to find out why the state of Minnesota has failed to investigate thousands of complaints of theft, physical abuse and sexual assault of residents of senior care facilities.

"The senior care failure is really appalling," Dayton said Wednesday, Nov. 15.

The action is in response to a five-part series by the Minneapolis-based Star Tribune. Examining state records, it found:

• "Every year, hundreds of residents at senior care centers around the state are assaulted, raped or robbed in crimes that leave lasting trauma and pain for the victims and their families. Yet the vast majority of these crimes are never resolved, and the perpetrators never punished, because state regulators lack the staff and expertise to investigate them. And thousands of complaints are simply ignored."

• Of the 25,226 allegations of neglect, physical abuse, unexplained serious injuries and thefts last year in state-licensed senior facilities, 97 percent were never investigated.

• When investigations did happen, often they were essentially botched, with evidence destroyed or tampered with by facilities, interviews not conducted, and sometimes police or prosecutors not contacted as required by state law.

One of the agencies at the center of it all is the Minnesota Department of Health, which is charged with licensing and overseeing senior care centers. It can shut them down if things are bad enough.

"Some of these acts reported are criminal acts," Dayton said. "I'm at a loss to explain why they haven't been reported immediately as criminal acts to law enforcement agencies, rather than taken by the Department of Health and handled internally."

Dayton said the task force will include "people with expertise in this field."

Its goal: "determine what the situation is, what the failings are, which we should have been on top of well before now, and what some of the remedies will be."

He said he expects new laws will be needed.

In recent years, the Department of Health has streamlined its investigative process for acting on complaints, but it remains understaffed, Dayton said. As the population ages and more Minnesotans live in residential care centers, the number of complaints of mistreatment has skyrocketed, Dayton said and the Star Tribune investigation found.

"I don't have all the answers, but I want Minnesotans to be assured that their relatives are being properly cared for and protected," he said. "I also call on the care industry ... to step forward and be part of the task force and take responsibility."

The Legislature is on the job as well, said Sen. Karin Housley, a Republican from St. Mary's Point who chairs the Senate Aging and Long-Term Care Policy Committee.

"The Senate Aging and Long-Term Care Committee has spent the year working to make sure the state's elderly (population) is adequately cared for so this sort of neglect does not continue," Housley said in a statement. "We are working on making sure families can receive more information while their loved ones are involved in ongoing investigations; it is important for this process to be as transparent as possible.

"However, there is much work that remains. During the upcoming legislative session, the committee will continue to examine possibilities on how to move forward in making absolutely sure our elderly population is cared for with the dignity, compassion, and respect they deserve."

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