Minnesota governor reiterates commitment to elder abuse investigations as state health commissioner resigns

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Minnesota Health Commissioner Ed Ehlinger, M.D., MSPH, resigned Tuesday after newspaper reports that the health department investigated only 3% of alleged elder abuse incidents.
Minnesota Health Commissioner Ed Ehlinger, M.D., MSPH, resigned Tuesday after newspaper reports that the health department investigated only 3% of alleged elder abuse incidents.

Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton reiterated his commitment to improving the investigation of maltreatment and abuse claims involving assisted living and nursing home residents in the state in the wake of the resignation of Minnesota Health Commissioner Ed Ehlinger, M.D., MSPH, on Tuesday.

Although the governor said in a press release that the health department had made “many great strides” in public health during Ehlinger's tenure, the department did not fare well in a recent five-part series on senior living and elder abuse published by the Star Tribune.

In 2016, according to the media outlet, the health department had received more than 25,000 reports of alleged incidents of physical or financial abuse, neglect or injury in licensed assisted living communities, memory care communities and nursing homes. The department investigated only 3% of the cases, however, and often complicated potential criminal cases because of the slowness of the investigations, according to the newspaper.

Minnesota is home to 60,000 assisted living residents and 30,000 nursing home residents, according to the Star Tribune.

Dayton, a Democrat, several weeks ago ordered the Minnesota Department of Human Services' Office of the Inspector General to help the health department improve its management of elder maltreatment, neglect and abuse investigations. The department plans to hire additional investigators and also is implementing an electronic records management system to help workers more quickly and effectively respond to allegations, the governor said.

Dayton and AARP Minnesota Director Will Philips also recently announced a new, independent work group, convened by AARP Minnesota, that will provide guidance on steps the state should take to improve the health and safety of assisted living and nursing home residents. The group will provide its recommendations to state lawmakers ahead of the next legislative session, which will begin in February.

Sen. Karin Housley, a Republican and leader of the state Senate's Aging and Long-Term Care Policy Committee, previously said that during the session, her committee “will continue to examine possibilities on how to move forward in making absolutely sure our elderly population is cared for with the dignity, compassion and respect they deserve.”

Ehlinger had served as health commissioner for the past seven years. Named acting commissioner until the governor appointments a successor to Ehlinger is Dan Pollock, an attorney with 10 years of experience in public health and healthcare who has been deputy commissioner for the past three years.

Tuesday, Minnesota Senate Health and Human Services Committee Chairwoman Michelle Benson, a Republican, said she looked forward to working with Pollock to improve department operations.

“Though I hold Dr. Ehlinger in high regard for his dedication, his resignation is appropriate given the stories of mismanagement at the Office of Health Facilities Complaints,” she said.

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