State employees say elder-abuse reports
tossed in trash due to backlog of cases
The abrupt firing of a senior regulator at the Minnesota Department of Health is unleashing a torrent of complaints by employees who describe dysfunction and disarray at the state agency responsible for protecting vulnerable adults at senior care facilities.
In interviews with the Star Tribune, employees described an office so overwhelmed by backlogged cases that workers dumped dozens of maltreatment complaints into recycling bins without reading them. Others said unread complaint forms piled up into stacks 2 feet high and went unexamined for months.
At one point, employees said, they were ordered to stop making phone calls to elderly victims and other individuals who reported nursing home abuse because it was too time-consuming. But that only angered families, hindered investigations and subverted office morale, they said.
“Day after day, people here are put in an impossible situation,” said Jessie Saavedra, who has worked at the Health Department for 23 years, including the past three years at its Office of Health Facility Complaints (OHFC).
Workers contacted the Star Tribune after learning that Nancy A. Omondi was terminated last month as director of the agency’s health regulation division. Her firing came just weeks after the Star Tribune published a five-part series documenting that hundreds of residents at senior care centers across Minnesota are beaten, sexually assaulted or robbed each year.
The employees’ accounts help explain why the Health Department suffered chronic breakdowns in investigating maltreatment complaints, holding facilities accountable and addressing the alarm and anxiety of worried families.
In an interview, Health Commissioner Dr. Ed Ehlinger said he was “really disturbed” by reports that employees may have destroyed complaint records and said he has already launched an investigation into those claims. He and other agency officials also emphasized that OHFC staff are expected to call individuals who report complaints, and that such calls are vital to families and the investigative process. An agency spokesman said any contrary guidance by a supervisor “would be unacceptable.”