HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) – Gov. Tom Wolf’s administration has taken the extraordinary step of mobilizing state employees to conduct investigations for a Philadelphia nonprofit struggling to hire enough social workers to respond allegations of neglect or abuse of the elderly.
Aging Secretary Robert Torres took that step over the summer, after Department of Aging staff interned the alarm bells about how Philadelphia was handling cases. The Associated Press asked about the assignment of state employees to help the nonprofit Philadelphia Corporation for Aging after reviewing internal department emails received via an open case request.
While the latest state data still contains errors, the nonprofit likely failed to comply with state laws that require social workers to quickly see potential victims, limit the number of workers’ cases and are setting deadlines to resolve the cases, according to state officials and data provided by the Department of Aging to the AP earlier this month.
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“I think we have an obligation to help them, and we are making progress, but not progress that none of us, especially myself, are happy with, because we obviously have to go faster,” Torres told the AP in an interview last week.
In August, Torres ordered improvements to the Philadelphia nonprofit, citing three specific cases where state inspectors feared social workers were not helping those in need enough.
Neither Torres, nor his agency, nor the Philadelphia Corporation for Aging were willing to release details of these cases, including whether these people lived or died.
In addition to forcing changes, Torres has assigned six state employees to assist the Philadelphia nonprofit, in addition to their normal duties of overseeing how county-level agencies handle allegations. neglect or abuse.
Employees have taken on more than 420 cases in four months in Philadelphia, according to the State Department of Aging. As a result, routine surveillance duties from other counties are postponed.
Five other staff members of the state’s Department of Aging are helping the Philadelphia nonprofit with other tasks, the department said.
The Philadelphia Corporation for Aging is one of 52 local agencies in Pennsylvania, some of which are county-run while others are nonprofits that have contracts with the state to carry out what cases are called “protective services” for people 60 years of age and over.
Most calls relate to an older person who lives alone or with a family member or caregiver. Poverty is often a factor.
The Department of Aging discloses little about what it knows about how county agencies may fail to meet standards, and it does not respond to any other agency.
Many county-level agencies have seen the pandemic exacerbate long-term difficulties in hiring and retaining social workers, but the situation in Philadelphia is particularly dire.
The Philadelphia Corporation for Aging itself does not answer questions about the ranks of its social workers, its turnover and salary, or its number of open cases.
All a spokesperson for a nonprofit was prepared to say in an emailed statement on Friday was that at its peak, 60% of its investigative positions were vacant. He has now reduced that figure to 22%, the spokesperson said.
The Department of Aging said the Philadelphia nonprofit has 50 investigator positions. As of December 10, the nonprofit had told the state that 32 positions were filled, although five of those social workers are on leave, according to information from the Department of Aging.
The Philadelphia nonprofit also hired a contractor for support and protective service workers from other counties to help out on a part-time basis, the department said.
Yet in recent months, the number of Philadelphia cases for individual workers has greatly exceeded 30 active cases, the limit set by state law, according to state officials.
Cases are supposed to be closed within 20 days, but data from the state’s case management system showed a staggering 3,100 cases opened in Philadelphia, according to the Department of Aging. Torres warned that in some of these cases, people have been put in contact with service providers and social workers are simply not updating this information in the system.
The Philadelphia nonprofit also falls short of state law when it comes to seeing a potential victim within 24 hours of classifying a case as an emergency or a priority, data shows. of State. The Department of Aging warned that some of the entries were incorrect and missing information such as a date the call was taken or when a face-to-face meeting took place.
Torres has so far defended the Philadelphia nonprofit, saying it has “an almost perfect storm of vacancies” and revenue in its arms amid the pandemic.
Torres, however, couldn’t give a deadline for when Philadelphia must fend for itself – or risk losing the state contract. The priority is to hire more social workers and try new strategies to find eligible candidates, Torres said.
“So I would like to tell you that I would like to see that done within the next three months,” Torres said. “I mean, I’m sure this is something that cannot happen fast enough to my satisfaction. But there are practical realities that we are faced with here. That is why it is difficult for me to tell you. in three months that will happen or the contract will disappear. “
But, he said, at some point “if performance doesn’t improve, then I think there’s going to be a different conversation.”
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