PHOENIX — A new report is shining light on changes needed in the department that's supposed to protect one of the state's most vulnerable populations, adults with disabilities or in need of long-term care.
After a disabled woman gave birth at Hacienda HealthCare, the Arizona Developmental Disabilities Planning Council spent nearly a year researching and putting together a newly released report on how to improve Arizona's Adult Protective Services. The department investigates cases where adults in need of care are neglected or abused.
Sarah Ruf, Community Relations Specialist for the Arizona Developmental Disabilities Planning Council, says the group is made up of volunteers appointed by the Governor. Through research, they found the number of calls to Adult Protective Services has tripled in the last decade. The number of allegations investigated in the state fiscal year of 2018 totals 17,062 (which includes abuse, but also exploitation, neglect and self-neglect). Of those, 4,000 were filed under the abuse category. It's unclear how many of those 4,000 were sexual abuse.
"We think that breaking that out would be helpful for people to realize, hey we have a really big problem for this specific type of abuse," Ruf said.
The report also says a gap in communication between law enforcement and Adult Protective Services means it could take months for a caregiver convicted of abuse to be placed on an online registry that tracks them.
"Someone may not even be on the registry, but they've had a pattern of abuse," Ruf said. "You can see where the confusion comes in."
Also in the report, the council calls on the department to investigate cases where patients are emotionally abused. Ruf said if there's a pattern, it's a criminal offense in Arizona.
"Currently some people call and they say, we don't investigate those types of cases," Ruf said.
She said these issues are important for every family looking to hire a caregiver for their loved one.
"You get into your 80s and your 90s, this is something that every family is going to have to deal with," Ruf said.
The report is also calling for an outside audit to be done of the Adult Protective Services program.
A spokesperson for the Arizona Department of Public Health sent ABC15 the following statement:
"Protecting vulnerable adults is one of the core functions of the Department of Economic Security (DES) and the State. Today, DES and the Arizona Department of Health Services held a stakeholder meeting with more than 150 participants from around the state who are helping to develop an Adult Protective Services (APS) Action Plan. The stakeholders identified gaps that currently exist in APS and made recommendations for solutions that will improve the APS system. The stakeholders also focused on identifying solutions to provide better linkage to services, which includes reducing the waitlist, improving network sufficiency of services, and ensuring case follow up, handoff, and closure with partners. The stakeholder meeting examined strategies to improve state agency processes to ensure a more efficient, streamlined approach to protecting Arizona's vulnerable adults. Additionally, key stakeholders identified solutions to reduce the APS backlog and develop a sustainable process to ensure another backlog is not created. We have reviewed the Arizona Developmental Disabilities Planning Council report and will consider the recommendations as the action plan is being developed. We expect to release the APS Action Plan in mid-February."