Editor’s note: The end of this story was omitted in our Tuesday edition because of a printing error. The Daily Reporter apologizes for the inconvenience.
GREENFIELD — Nursing home residents kept in cages, injured and left without supervision — the scene inside a Greenfield facility prompted one legislator to write a law aimed at analyzing staff needs for a state agency tasked with protecting endangered adults.
Under a bill passed by the General Assembly this session, the Family and Social Services Administration must submit a report to legislators before the end of the year about the state of its Adult Protective Services branch, which was established to investigate cases of elder abuse and neglect.
The report will focus on determining the staffing levels necessary to efficiently and safely run the department and the circumstances that result in emergency placement of an endangered adult. Now, the equivalent of about 30 full-time investigators oversee the state’s 92 counties, Crider said.
Jerry Kiefer, unit director of Shelby, Hancock and Johnson counties, is the only investigator in his region, which encompass about 1,040 square miles.
He estimates the unit he oversees gets 2,000 calls or reports of abuse or neglect every year, but not every call results in a case, he said.
His office is in Shelby County, and splitting his time among the three counties means no investigator is present every day in Hancock County, said Prosecutor Brent Eaton.
“If there was a full-time presence, we would have a better chance of catching those who commit these crimes,” Eaton said.
Sen. Mike Crider, R-Greenfield, who carried the bill that has been sent to the governor for his signature, said the agency needs more resources, especially as the Baby Boomer generation ages.
Crider was inspired to carry the bill after learning about an adult-care facility in Greenfield that was running under the agency’s radar while the facility’s owners neglected the adults they were charged with caring for, according to court documents.
Kearns Comfort Care on Green Meadows Drive was investigated in November after a hospice care nurse reported concerns about the facility. The facility’s owners, Shawn and David Kearns, are charged with neglect and criminal recklessness; their cases are pending.
The Kearnses ran the business out of their duplex without a license, and because of a loophole in state law, the facility avoided inspection for years, Kiefer told the Daily Reporter in November.
Crider said he talked with investigators who told him there aren’t enough staff members overseeing nursing and group homes for adults.
The report required by the General Assembly will give lawmakers an idea of what improvements need to be made at the department and will help them prepare to allocate extra funding next year to pay additional staffers, Crider said.
Earlier this month, lawmakers moved to allocate $1.1 million to Adult Protective Services to allow the agency to add 18 new investigators after Crider authored the bill concerning the agency. But more investigators could be needed, Crider said.
“We have an aging population, and we need to address this,” Crider said.
Kiefer said he’s hopeful the study will disclose the agency’s shortcomings and inadequacies in the number or investigators and other resources.
“The (Adult Protective Services) program has been dangerously understaffed since I started over 14 years ago. I think every investigator always wonders if they missed somebody because we are spread so thin,” he wrote in an email to the Daily Reporter. “Sometimes, it seems we are asked to do the difficult or impossible, and tools we could use are denied to us. This can place our vulnerable population at further risk.”
A report from the agency is due by Dec. 1.
Daily Reporter staff writer Caitlin VanOverberghe contributed to this report.