WATERTOWN, Mass. (State House News Service) – While reports of abuse against disabled adults have increased by nearly 20 percent since 2009, the agency charged with safeguarding those individuals from harm has seen its staffing reduced and it would fall further under the governor’s budget recommendation.
“We have some investigators that have over 50 open investigations,” Disabled Persons Protection Commission Executive Director Nancy Alterio told the News Service, after requesting additional funding from a legislative panel Monday. She said, “We’re addressing the emergencies. The problem is then following up and completing the investigation.”
Alterio said the organization has a State Police detective assigned to it, and it refers criminal cases to the district attorneys and moves to put disabled adults in safer situations if they suspect abuse.
In one case, highlighted in an info sheet, an alleged abuser hit a member of his family, a 54-year-old woman, in the head several times, dragged her, banged her against walls, and threw a 25-pound bag of kitty litter at her head, leading to pain and vomiting.
“An individual with an intellectual disability who’s now 23 years of age was repeatedly beaten and sexually assaulted by her mother’s boyfriend since she was about the age of 12,” said Alterio. She said, “Tens of thousands of additional stories of victimization have been reported to the Disabled Persons Protection Commission.”
The testimony caused Sen. Patricia Jehlen, a Somerville Democrat who is chairwoman of the Committee on Elder Affairs, to want more information on the challenges the agency faces.
“That was disturbing, and I don’t know if any of these things are just a matter of money, but it was disturbing to hear the number of people who are subject to abuse,” Jehlen said after the hearing ended.
The state agency has 28 full-time equivalent employees, down from 32 in fiscal year 2009, and it would need $2.49 million to maintain its current staffing level, an increase caused by a higher rent at its Braintree offices and increased telephone payments.
Gov. Deval Patrick’s budget recommendation is slightly below that, at $2.46 million. To return to 32 fulltime-equivalent employees, the commission would need its budget increased to $2.77 million, according to a DPPC info sheet.
“I respectfully request consideration, serious consideration, be given to restoring DPPC back to the staff of 32 FTEs,” Alterio said. “This is truly a small investment given the magnitude of the problem.”
The independent agency investigates crimes against people with disabilities who are between the ages of 18 and 59, maintaining a 24-hour hotline. In fiscal year 2013, the agency received 7,986 abuse reports, up from 6,722 reports in fiscal year 2009.
“Historically DPPC has been confronted with the challenge of doing more with less,” Alterio told the House and Senate Ways and Means committees on Monday. She said, “At the same time we have experienced an unprecedented increase in our caseload.”
In the first six months of fiscal year 2014, abuse reports were up 17 percent, and the investigations caseload was up 6 percent, and there are 600 overdue investigations, Alterio said.
“Over the course of a recent week one investigator was assigned 11 new investigations, including an after-hours emergency, which requires an immediate response,” Alterio said.