Audit finds La. elderly affairs agency struggled to investigate abuse

Published 10:39 am Thursday, July 13, 2023

By Steve Wilson | The Center Square

Low staff, high caseloads and an ineffective data system plague the Governor’s Office of Elderly Affairs, according to a report by the state legislative auditor.

The report by Louisiana Legislative Auditor Mike Waguesback’s office found the agency might not be receiving all reports of elder abuse; hasn’t devised a criteria for handling those cases; doesn’t meet required timelines when assigning reports of abuse or neglect to caseworkers; and didn’t detail investigative procedures for physical abuse and neglect cases when they result in the death of an elderly person.

The report also says the state doesn’t have an investigative agency to examine cases of the elderly who die due to abuse. The auditor’s office found that 1,949 (8.8%) of 22,172 cases closed by the office from fiscal 2018 to 2022 resulted in a client death. Auditors also found in these cases that the coroner was not notified about the abuse complaints by caseworkers.

“Additionally, EPS did not always develop service plans to address each problem identified during case investigations as required by policy and follow up on service plans to ensure clients received the services they needed,” the report said.

The auditor also said the agency faces significant staffing and funding challenges, with caseworkers slogging through a monthly caseload of 85.6 cases during fiscal years 2018 through 2022, higher than similar agencies in 36 other states.

The auditor’s office found that in 19.6% of 92 cases reviewed, the agency didn’t assign reports for investigation in the required timeframe and didn’t contact complainants in 39 of those cases (42.4%) within the mandated time.

In a response letter, GOEA Executive Director Shirley Merrick blamed some of the issues for the agency being transferred back to the governor’s office in 2017 and the COVID-19 pandemic. The letter also said the agency will seek more funding from lawmakers for a 24-hour hotline and will implement some of the recommendations made by the auditor’s office.

“We are continuing to make improvements and will utilize recommendations in this report to further enhance the services provided,” the response letter said.