The Louisiana Legislative Auditor found several shortcomings in the state’s Elderly Protective Services office. (Andranik Hakobyan/Getty Images)
Louisiana legislators questioned Tuesday whether the state needs to devote more money to fight elder abuse after an investigation showed the Governor’s Office of Elderly Affairs has not adequately responded to reports of mistreatment and neglect.
“It looks like to me that this is another one of those instances where there is a funding issue that we have to address,” Sen. Jay Luneau, D-Alexandria, said during a meeting of the Legislative Audit Advisory Council at the state Capitol.
Lawmakers also suggested studying the structure of the Governor’s Office of Elderly Affairs, after the report from the legislative auditor suggested the office doesn’t have enough resources to keep up with abuse allegations it receives.
Like child protective services, the elderly protective services division solicits tips from the public about potential cases of abuse for people 60 and older. It received nearly 5,200 reports of abuse and neglect from 2017 to 2022, according to a recent audit. The most common allegations included self-neglect (27%), caregiver neglect (24%), financial exploitation (18%), and emotional abuse (16%).
Auditors found several shortcomings in elderly protective services. The division wasn’t reporting enough cases to coroners for suspicious death investigations, it wasn’t responding to potential emergencies quickly enough, and it needed more robust public outreach. SUPPORT NEWS YOU TRUST.
A public hotline for reporting suspected elder abuse is open only during weekday business hours, leaving no options for assistance on weekends and holidays. The workload for the caseworkers is also too high. More staff and better technology would help existing employees manage their loads, according to the auditor.
“I’m not sure how much more we expect them to do,” Rep. Edmond Jordan, D-Baton Rouge, said during the meeting. “I do think it’s a budget and funding issue.”
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Chaunda Mitchell, the governor’s deputy chief of staff for programs and planning, said the Office of Elderly Affairs had set up a task force to address staffing shortfalls. Potential solutions could include a pay increase so the agency has a better chance of filling its vacancies. A new computer system that should make the office more efficient is also expected to go live in September.
A couple of lawmakers suggested Louisiana look at combining elderly protective services with its other adult protective services division in the Louisiana Department of Health. The adult protective services division serves a similar function as elderly protective services, but for people who are ages 18 to 59.
“I think we need to do a deeper dive on ‘Does it make sense to merge these two agencies together?’” Sen. Fred Mills, R-Parks, said.
Former Gov. Bobby Jindal had combined elderly protective services with adult protective services at the health department for a few years. Gov. John Bel Edwards moved the agency back to the Governor’s Office of Elderly Affairs during his first term in office.
Mitchell said Edwards made the change at the request of senior citizen advocates, who complained that they were “not being served” under a combined system with adult protective services.
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