(Courtesy of DDS, William Kiliany photo)
Southbury Training School ((Courtesy of DDS, William Kiliany photo))

(Updated 7:02 a.m.) The state Department of Developmental Services, which provides services for tens of thousands of intellectually and developmentally disabled clients, has fallen behind on investigating allegations of the abuse and neglect, according to the Auditors of Public Accounts.

A review of the agency released Thursday found that between 1,100 and 1,200 abuse and neglect complaints are filed each year. Generally, DDS investigates the ones in public group homes and institutions, while private providers are left to do their own investigations per an agreement reached in 2008.

Under state law the investigations are supposed to be completed in 90 days, but the auditors found that as Sept. 30, 2012 there were 243 cases older than 90 days. An estimated 211 of those 243 were being conducted by private providers and 32 were investigations by public employees, including six at the Southbury Training School. Of the 211 private provider investigations about 71 percent were older than six months, the report found.

The agency agreed with auditors that it should revisit its contract with the Office of Protection and Advocacy for Persons with Disabilities for how abuse and neglect investigations are handled in its contracts with private providers and internally on different computer systems. It told auditors that it is reviewing its “policies and procedures and will make changes or revisions as required to ensure that processes are standardized throughout the department.”

Joan Barnish, a spokeswoman for the agency, said that it has identified this as an area for a “Quality Improvement Initiative” in the coming fiscal year.

“DDS will be using the state Lean process of including key partners from other agencies, the provider community and families to develop strategies for simplification and quality improvement to the investigation process,” she added.

The agency has also fallen behind adding the employees, who are terminated or separated from their employment as a result of substantiated abuse or neglect, to a statewide registry.

The accused employee needs to be given notice that within 45 days that their name has been submitted by a former employer for placement on the registry. After that a hearing is supposed to be convened to determine whether the employee’s name should be placed on the registry.

But, according to auditors, there’s also a registry hearing backlog.

“As of August 21, 2013, there were 182 cases pending. One case was still pending from 2007, one from 2009, 18 from 2010, 42 from 2011, 72 from 2012, and 48 from 2013,” the auditors report found. “Pending cases in this context means notifications of termination or separation received in which a decision had not been made whether to place the employee’s name on the registry. Cases can be closed administratively, without a hearing resulting in no referral to the registry, or closed as a result of a decision rendered by a hearing officer.”

The problem is even if one of these investigations is pending, the employee who is the subject of the investigation can continue to work with intellectually and developmentally disabled clients.

“An employee’s name cannot be placed on the registry until a decision has been rendered,” the report found. “Until the decision is rendered to place an employee on the registry, they can continue to work in the field of direct care with another employer, potentially putting other clients at risk.”

Auditors recommended the agency get to work tackling the backlog of cases in order to resolve the problem.

The agency told auditors that it has hired two employees to fill two vacancies in the work unit that prepares the cases for registry hearings and has hired two new “temporary staff” to the unit to reduce the backlog of pending abuse and neglect cases.

Barnish said it has also begun outreach for hiring additional hearing officers to increase registry hearings.