By Angela Davis

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — Reports of neglect and abuse of senior citizens in care facilities have a group of state senators demanding answers.

Tuesday afternoon, the senators called on Health Department officials to explain the failure of the Office of Health Facilities Complaints to do its job investigating reports of senior care neglect.

WCCO’s Angela Davis has more on calls to stop the abuse that has led to some deaths.

It’s been almost a year since this group of senators raised questions about how the state deals with complaints made by people who believe an elderly loved one was mistreated or abused while living in a senior care facility. They now say a whistleblower within the health department was just fired for exposing what’s broken within the system.

Meanwhile, they say elderly victims are suffering.

“Why are we continuing to hear about the abuse, neglect and harm to our senior population, some resulting in death,” Sen. Karin Housley of St. Mary’s Point said.

State Senator Karin Housley says there’s been a lot of talk, but nothing is happening.  She stood with state senators Michele Benson and Carrie Ruud and described a dysfunctional Office of Health Facilities Complaints.

“Why can’t the OHFC retain employees? Why are thousands of complaints going uninvestigated? Why are our most vulnerable adults unprotected?” Housley said.

She says a whistleblower at the state health department was fired after she shed light on why investigators keep quitting their jobs.

“What this whistleblower uncovered at the OHFC was a toxic culture of bullying, intimidation, harassment and complete disregard for outside input, and nobody cared,” Housley said.

Sheila Pietig, 87, died after suffering a stroke at her assisted care living facility in Maple Plain six years ago. Her daughter believes her death was a result of negligence by the center’s staff, and since then has worked relentlessly to draw attention to the problems facing elder care in Minnesota.

“I think our fines are mere slaps on the wrists and there are no significant penalties to really change how we really do things, to know that this is really serious,” Victims’ Advocate Sheila Van Pelt said.

Several months ago, Gov. Mark Dayton appointed a working group to review the Health Department’s oversight of senior care homes licensed by the state. Sen. Housley says she is still waiting for the findings of an investigation by the Office of Legislator Auditor.

She was last told it will be available in March.

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