The state auditor is criticizing the Massachusetts public health department for taking too long to investigate elder abuse claims at nursing homes.
Auditor Suzanne Bump looked at a sample of 200 of the worst complaints of elders being abused or neglected — from poor sanitation to financial manipulation to leaving patients alone so long they develop bedsores.
Only a quarter of the cases were investigated within the required 10 day period — and on average, it took about 40 days.
In her report, Bump also found the Department of Public Health failed to refer some egregious cases to the Attorney General's office, and did not have a good way to track the high-priority claims.
"It clearly is not OK," Bump said in an interview Thursday. "I suppose, to some sad extent, I am becoming accustomed to seeing agencies unable to fulfill their missions because they lack the staff to handle these complaints."
The investigation covered a two-year period, ending in 2018.
In the auditor's report, the Department of Public Health (DPH) said it's already addressing its backlog and disagrees with the finding that the Department does not have proper policies in place.
In a later statement, the DPH wrote, "Prior to the start of the audit, DPH increased staffing to respond to complaint allegations and 99.5% of intake cases that required onsite investigations during the audit period were investigated as required."
Bump said agencies commonly claim that her audits are out of date.
"I'm sorry if this sounds cynical, but they say that for public consumption," she said. "But then when we go back in six months, as is our practice, and ask them if they have implemented the recommendations that we have made, then they acknowledge that they have."
In another recent report, Bump's office singled out the Greater Springfield Senior Services for similar problems.
Bump said if the agencies tasked with oversight of elder care don't take appropropriate action, she hopes legislators and community members will push for change.