Disabled Persons Protection Commission is Not Effectively Administering Investigations of Alleged Abuse, Audit Shows

Commission has not effectively addressed recommendations from previous audit
BOSTON – In an audit released today, the Office of State Auditor Suzanne M. Bump (OSA) showed the Disabled Persons Protection Commission (DPPC) has been consistently missing required state deadlines for abuse investigations and did not have a system for identifying persons with repeated allegations of reported abuse. DPPC is responsible for the investigation and remediation of abuse of people with disabilities in the Commonwealth.
The audit, which examined July 1, 2017 through June 30, 2019, found DPPC has be unable to complete its initial responses to investigations (IRs) or investigation reports within the regulatory timeframes. IRs are used by DPPC investigators to assess initial risk for harm and abuse, and 19C reports make conclusions on whether abuse actually occurred. The audit notes 63% of the IRs reviewed were completed after the 10 days allowed by regulation; on average, they were completed in 19 days. Similarly, 85% of the investigation reports reviewed were not completed within the 30 day timeframe; on average they were completed within 70 days. Delays such as these can put victims who are disabled at risk of further abuse.
Auditors also determined the Commission did not always document individuals who had been identified as alleged abusers. There were seven individuals during the audit who each had three or more reports of suspected abuse, but whose case files did not include this information. As a result, the audit notes abuse investigations might not be as thorough or effective and could lack critical information on past abusers. Today’s audit followed up on a 2015 report from the OSA that found similar issues related to abuse investigation timeframes not being met and incomplete documentation for alleged abusers.
“It is unacceptable to have breaks in the system that is designed to protect individuals with a disability from abuse. The Commonwealth has established these tight timeframes in order to prevent further abuse and our audit makes clear DPPC must do a better job in meeting them,” Bump said. “The Commission must continue to work with its referral agencies at the state level to curb these delays and to ensure individuals with disabilities are living in the safest circumstances possible.”
The audit calls on DPPC to work with its partner state agencies, including the Department of Developmental Services (DDS), the Department of Mental Health (DMH), and the Massachusetts Rehabilitation Commission (MRC), to put processes in place so that investigations can be completed within mandated timeframes. In its response, DPPC noted that it was making upgrades to its database to better monitor critical case deadlines.
Additionally, the audit examined DPPC’s oversight of protective service plans (PSP) which are used to prevent future incidents of harm after an individual has been abused. Of the PSPs reviewed, 68 percent were not confirmed to be received by DPPC from providers within 30 days of the completion of abuse investigations. This leaves those individuals who had been abused more vulnerable to future harm. Further, DPPC did not ensure that alleged abusers were always advised of their rights. This issue was identified in OSA’s previous examination of the agency. Today’s audit calls on DPPC to implement controls to ensure that alleged abusers are made aware of their rights before being interviewed for abuse investigations.
DPPC, established in 1987, is an independent state agency that performs its own investigations and oversees and directs investigations conducted on its behalf by DDS, DMH, and MRC. DPPC has three Governor-appointed commissioners that report to the Governor and the Legislature. The Commission received 11,900 and 13,102 abuse reports in fiscal years 2018 and 2019, respectively. In fiscal year 2019, it received $4.92 million in state appropriations and had approximately 50 full-time employees.