I testified before the Connecticut Legislature’s Committee on Aging on February 10, supporting a bill which would make maliciously false reports of elder abuse a Class D felony.
Although I came away from the hearing with the sense that the bill will go forward, hopefully without any watering down, I was appalled at some of the testimony AGAINST the bill! How can anyone in their right mind take the relatively simple wording of a bill to protect innocent elder caregivers, and turn it into some kind of sinister effort to thwart legitimate reports of elder abuse?
Well, let’s start with Department of Social Services Commissioner (DSS) Michael P. Starkowski. He opposed the bill, according to his written testimony because “Experience shows that by providing anonymity and protection from liability to reporters, the number of reports has substantially increased thus identifying a number of elders who would have otherwise suffered in silence.”
Really? Well, in response to questioning by committee co-chair Sen. Edith Prague, Starkowski later said that the DSS gets approximately 3400 complaints of elder abuse annually, and three-quarters of them prove to be unfounded! He added that the DSS investigates approximately 800-900 real reports of abuse each year, and a staffer, upon further questioning, said it takes a very, very long time to resolve those cases.
The commissioner’s testimony begs the question, how much money would the DSS save if its investigators stop wasting time on repeated false complaints of elder abuse that have been fully investigated, and concentrate instead on resolving the real abuse complaints?
The DSS currently sends investigators – unannounced – to the home in question where they sternly announce that they are investigating “a report of elder abuse.” These are not “expressions of concern” by the way, as I was told by the Chief State’s Attorney’s office last year. The DSS investigators say they are investigating “elder abuse.”
They demand entrance to your home, demand an audience with the elder person in question – alone, meaning not you, not a lawyer, not a friend, just the elder person and the investigator – and they also examine your home for evidence of whatever.
As the subject of their investigation you are not allowed counsel, can’t stop them from gathering evidence and testimony inside your house to use against you, can’t even take the time to put away any personal papers you may have been working on when they showed up. They don’t even read you your Miranda rights!
And they won’t tell you who made the complaint or even what was alleged! So you have no right face your accusers, no right to see the “evidence” against you, virtually no rights whatsoever! Drug dealers cooking crystal meth in their kitchens have more rights in the State of Connecticut than family members who are taking care of elderly relatives.
Yet, the commissioner would rather trample all over the rights of two-thousand, six hundred innocent Connecticut residents every year, than risk the odd chance that one potential reporter of real elder abuse would not understand the meaning of the word “malicious.”
Considering that the bill would make it a crime to make a false report with malice, any health care worker like a visiting nurse, or a doctor, who is required to report suspicious incidents would automatically be exempted unless there is evidence that they had some kind of personal dispute with the caregiver.
Starkowski further testified that “the department would be required to make a determination of what is or is not a fraudulent or malicious report before involving the criminal justice system which already cannot handle the volume of prosecutions of suspected perpetrators of the various forms of abuse.”
If I was Chief State’s Atty. Kevin Kane I’d be ticked at that. What an incredible insult to our state’s top prosecutor. Even if there are 900 valid abuse reports each year it still works out to 3.5 cases per working day – statewide. I think our state prosecutors can handle that.
If you get repeated complaints from the same people who have been shown to be part of an ongoing conspiracy it shouldn’t take a lot of brainpower to figure out what is malicious versus mistaken.
I also noticed at the hearing that Starkowski testified in opposition to several other bills that would help non-institutional elder care providers. For instance, he said a bill that would add extra money to a program supporting Adult Day Care would cost an extra $1.6 million a year over the $12 million currently budgeted.
Know what it costs to put an elder person, whose family must work during the day and have no other options for care, into a nursing home? Starkowski put that figure at $79,000 a year. Meaning if the increase in funding would help only 21 families statewide keep a parent or relative at home so they could work during the day, it would offset the increase.
It seems that under its current leadership the DSS puts the welfare of nursing homes that charge more than $79,000 per year per person, way ahead of individuals and organizations like adult daycare centers and community care facilities that take so much of the burden off the state taxpayers.
A report last year by the Blum Shapiro accounting and business consulting firm noted that there are about 19,000 Connecticut residents in nursing homes on Medicaid. Multiply that times $79,000 each and it comes to One Billion Five Hundred Million dollars per year, coming out of the taxpayers’ pockets! What an incredible opportunity for savings.
Gov. Daniel Malloy has been making changes at the top of other state agencies to bring more effective, less wasteful practices into play – at the same time he is recommending some of the highest tax increases in the state’s history.
Gov. Malloy would do well to take a hard look at the DSS, starting at the top, and reversing this obvious tilt in priorities toward nursing home care. If he also tells the state auditors to forget this nonsensical License Plate Scandal, and do a forensic audit of the Department of Social Services, I bet he could scale way back on some of those proposed tax increases.
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