© 2024
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Mass. Auditor: Disabled Persons Protection Commission Lagging On Abuse Investigations

A series of packets of reports from the Massachusetts State Auditor's office

In a new report Wednesday, Massachusetts State Auditor Suzanne Bump says the Disabled Persons Protection Commission has been ineffective in investigating allegations of abuse. Her report, which examines 2017 through 2019, found the DPPC has consistently missed deadlines and failed to implement a system to identify abusers. 85% percent of the investigation reports Bump’s office reviewed were not completed in required timeframes, taking on average more than twice the 30-day limit to complete. The audit follows up a 2015 report by Bump that found similar shortcomings. In a statement, the DPPC disputed the auditor’s findings, defending its operations and calling her report disingenuous.

WAMC spoke with the Democrat about the report, and what it means for the state agency.

BUMP: The commission is responsible for taking in complaints about on various types of abuse that are suffered by disabled persons. When we looked at the agency, which we had done a few years ago, we saw that some of the problems that existed a few years ago continue to plague the agency. But most of this really had to do with the timeliness of their investigations of reports of this abuse of disabled persons, and their approval of so called protective service plans, when there has been documented abuse to ensure that the perpetrator of that abuse is removed from the situation and alternatives are put in place to provide care for the for the disabled persons.

WAMC: What impact is this having on folks who are under the care of these conditions and agencies?

Well, in fact, most of the abuse that does get reported is by caregivers. And so it's important that these cases be reviewed quickly, in order to keep the disabled persons from further harm. I acknowledge that it is a complicated process many times for investigators, because there are often multiple state agencies that are providing service to a disabled person. It could involve the Department of Mental Health, as well as the Department of Developmental Services or the Massachusetts Rehab Commission, the state MassHealth plan, and so it really requires a great deal of coordination of effort amongst all of the state participants in this. But the goal has to be getting to the bottom of the allegations as quickly as possible, getting someone who is abusing a person out of the situation and putting in a care plan to replace the ones that had put the person in danger.

What exactly was the scope of the audit? And what is the process and timeline from this point onward with your report filed?

Well, the agency audit was done for this two year period mainly to follow up on the previous audit findings to see whether the agency had adopted recommendations that we had made when we previously found some problems there. And we're hopeful though, and perhaps more hopeful than before, that there will be improvement at the agency. One of the things that the agency points out, of course, is that there has been an increase in reports of abuse that need to be investigated. But until very recently, there had not been an increase in the staff made available to investigate these reports. That has happened now, the legislature has allocated more resources to the agency. So obviously, if there are more investigators, then investigators can- These incidents can be more quickly investigated, and plans for service be more quickly implemented, approved and implemented. So we are we are hopeful that things will change, that they are a little bit more rapidly than they had to this point in time. You know, and I do have to acknowledge, as I said before, that coordinating the work of multiple agencies, which often need to get involved in one of these abuse investigations is itself a time consuming process.

In the summation of your audit report, you say that the commission has not effectively addressed recommendations from previous audits, specifically about effectively responded o these alleged cases of abuse. What's an example of this sort of timeframe that you feel like is not effectively responding to these allegations?

Well, we found that, by virtue of looking at samples of cases that some of the delays that were occurring, were, for instance, in the time for an initial investigation, the law requires that is that they be initially investigated within 10 days. And on average, they were taking 19 days. We looked at incidents of completion of protective service plans, for instance, and found that those were regularly delayed. We found that completed cases with substantiated abuse, which were supposed to take 30 days, were taking 70 days. And so our concern is that during these extended intervals of time, that a person could continue to be at risk by an abuser, who, as I say, is oftentimes present on a on a daily basis in the home.

In this audit, did you find any parallels with other agencies you've audited as far as this kind of lapse in responding to something as crucial as an abuse allegation?

Yes. Agencies frequently will cite, as this agency did, the lack of necessary manpower in order to accomplish the tasks within the required timeframes. And I have sympathy for that problem. On the other hand, there also needs to be, I think, an improved coordination among the agencies. I'm glad that the legislature has made more resources available to the agency. I hope that will have a beneficial effect. There has been an improvement already at the agency with documenting reasons for tardiness. So clearly the message of becoming more accountable has, is getting through to the agency. And they are as focused on the process now as they are on the persons involved and we really need them to be. Timeliness of investigations is of the utmost importance.

The Disabled Persons Protection Commission offered the following statement to WAMC:

The Disabled Persons Protection Commission (“DPPC”) appreciates the role of the Office of the State Auditor (“OSA”) and the importance of an outside review of its operations as a way to enhance its mission to protect persons with a disability from abuse.  However, during this recent audit, the DPPC had significant concerns about the course of the audit due primarily to the constant rotation of OSA staff over a 19 month period which DPPC believes impacted the OSA’s understanding of key information and processes of the DPPC.  Unfortunately, the result was a disingenuous presentation of the findings and a sensationalized press release.  Absent from the release is the OSA’s findings that the DPPC properly screened the nearly 20,000 hotline calls it receives annually and conducted its investigations in full compliance with regulatory standards in all instances.  Also absent is the fact that the DPPC proactively secured federal grant funding to rebuild its database to improve its operations and tirelessly advocated for additional resources – and, thanks to the support of the Legislature and Administration, funding for critical resources was provided in the most recent budgets.  The DPPC appreciates the role of the OSA while respectfully disagreeing with the assertion that the DPPC is not administering its investigations properly—that is not the case and it is not what the audit found.  The DPPC has always and will always strive to improve its operations because the citizens of the Commonwealth deserve no less from their public servants. 

Nancy A. Alterio
Executive Director
Commonwealth of Massachusetts
Disabled Persons Protection Commission

Josh Landes has been WAMC's Berkshire Bureau Chief since February 2018, following stints at WBGO Newark and WFMU East Orange. A passionate advocate for Western Massachusetts, Landes was raised in Pittsfield and attended Hampshire College in Amherst, receiving his bachelor's in Ethnomusicology and Radio Production. His free time is spent with his cat Harry, experimental electronic music, and exploring the woods.
Related Content