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Updated Apr 11, 2014 - 3:27 pm

Arizona faces backlog of adult-abuse cases

PHOENIX -- Arizona officials are still struggling to decide on a response to a flood of reports of child abuse and neglect, but the state also has a big backlog in abuse and neglect cases involving adults.

Those cases have increased by 27 percent in each of the past two fiscal years, and Adult Protective Services had 8,800 open cases at the end of February, the Arizona Capitol Times reported.

The new state budget approved by the Legislature and awaiting action by Gov. Jan Brewer includes additional funding for hiring additional investigators and other personnel, but not as much money as Brewer requested.

``I don't want to say the sky is falling because it's not how we operate. We're doing the best that we can with the situation we have, but I think our staff is in crisis mode because we do not have what need to do the job the way it should be done,'' said Melanie Starns, assistant Department of Economic Security director in charge of the Division of Aging and Adult Services.

The backlog of adult-protection cases has been growing as attention has been focused on efforts to reconstruct the state's child-protection agency. Brewer is having a task force work on a plan for that and she is expected to call a legislative special session in the next several months.

Meanwhile, Brewer proposed $5.2 million in new dollars for Adult Protective Services to hire 40 investigators and 24 support staff. The Legislature adopted a $3 million increase in funding.

Sen. Anna Tovar, D-Tolleson, said a backlog of adult cases is equally as concerning as a backlog and subsequent crisis of uninvestigated cases at the defunct Child Protective Services. She said she is looking into the adult protective agency and has asked for data from DES and the Joint Legislative Budget Committee.

``We want to make sure DES is not failing another population,'' Tovar said.

A vulnerable adult is someone who can't physically or cognitively protect himself, and Adult Protective Services checks on people from age 18 and up. The most common victim is a white female, 85 years or older.

Starns said the agency is experiencing a 25 percent turnover rate. The agency standard for a caseload in urban areas is 45 to 50 cases, but investigators in Maricopa County are carrying loads of 300 cases. Investigators in rural areas carry 75 to 100 cases while the standard is 25 to 30.

``It's a difficult job right now,'' Starns said.

Mary Lynn Kasunic, president and CEO of the Area Agency on Aging, which works with Adult Protective Services, said the most frequent type of investigations in Arizona and nationwide involve neglect, either self-neglect or by a family member.

``Basically, what is happening is that someone can't take care of themselves anymore,'' Kasunic said.

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