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Gov. Mark Dayton said Wednesday that the state’s failure to protect elderly residents from abuse in senior care homes is appalling and promised to create a cabinet level task force to address the issue.

Responding to a five-part Star Tribune investigation published this week, Dayton said he wants reform proposals in time for the 2018 Legislature, which convenes in February. He said the task force will consist of state agency heads and experts on senior abuse and elder justice.

“Some of the acts that have been reported are criminal acts,” the governor said at a morning news conference. “I’m at a loss to understand why they aren’t reported immediately as criminal acts to law enforcement agencies.”

The Star Tribune series, which concludes in Thursday’s edition, detailed chronic failure by state regulators to investigate incidents of criminal abuse in senior care homes.

The investigation found that hundreds of vulnerable residents at senior care centers across Minnesota are beaten, sexually assaulted or robbed each year. Yet the vast majority of these crimes are never resolved, and perpetrators are never punished, because the state agency charged with protecting seniors in these facilities lacks the staff and expertise to investigate the crimes.

Last year, the Minnesota Department of Health received 25,226 allegations of neglect, physical abuse, unexplained serious injuries, and thefts in state-licensed homes for seniors. Yet the agency investigated just 3 percent of those cases.

Even when the state does investigate, the cases can drag on for months, making criminal prosecutions difficult or impossible. In dozens of criminal cases reviewed by the Star Tribune, victims were not interviewed and local police were not contacted.

Dayton said he hopes the companies and nonprofits that own and operate senior care facilities will step up to the challenge.

“I also call on the care industry that houses these individuals, as well as others with disabilities and infirmities, to step forward and be part of the task force. I want them to take responsibility,” Dayton said. “These actions … shouldn’t be tolerated.”

In addition to cases of abuse that were not investigated, the Star Tribune found that Minnesota’s consumer protection laws have failed to keep pace with changes in residential care for seniors, and have fallen behind those of other states in some areas. For instance, assisted-living facilities now care for about twice as many seniors as conventional nursing homes, yet undergo far less scrutiny.

An examination of public records found that fewer than half of Minnesota’s 1,300 licensed home and assisted-living providers are being inspected every three years, as required under state law.

Unlike nursing homes, these newer facilities face almost no repercussions for forcing out residents who become difficult to manage, the Star Tribune found. Across the state, residents of senior care facilities have been threatened with eviction for acts as harmless as installing a camera or complaining to other residents about poor care.

J. Patrick Coolican • 651-925-5042

Chris Serres • 612-673-4308