Metro

Follow-up data hazy on elderly cases

State’s computer system is called outdated, flawed

In the past week, 149 incidents at assisted-living residences in Massachusetts, many involving falls by elderly residents, were reported to state regulators. But whether residents were injured and what type of follow-up was taken remain unclear.

On Tuesday, state regulators said they continue working out bugs in a year-old computerized data-collection system that does not yet record the consequence of incidents at the state’s 222 assisted-living residences, nor actions taken by the facilities or state regulators to correct problems.

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“In general, we think the system we have for monitoring the incidents is getting better,” Elder Affairs Secretary Ann Hartstein told members of the Assisted Living Advisory Council, an appointed board of Patrick administration officials, industry leaders, and consumer representatives.

Hartstein was unable to answer council members’ questions about the extent of follow-up for reported incidents and whether the system is able to distinguish isolated cases from systemic problems at specific facilities, or track trends.

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“We review them as they come in, and any that require follow-up, we follow up,” she said. “We are just looking at the data we have and figuring out how to make that useful.”

She asked council members to send her agency, the Executive Office of Elder Affairs, suggestions on what types of information they would like the agency to collect and track.

The Globe reported Sunday that roughly 100 incidents at assisted-living residences are reported each week to the Office of Elder Affairs and that an agency staff member has repeatedly alerted his superiors that reports of serious incidents are languishing for weeks or months.

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He also told the Globe that no one seemed to be analyzing the incidents for patterns that may point to larger issues.

A department spokeswoman quoted in that report disputed the allegation of a backlog, but did not address whether the agency was analyzing the incident reports.

The agency has not updated its regulations since 2006, while the percentage of residents with dementia and in need of assistance with everyday activities such as eating, dressing, and walking has increased.

Hartstein told the council that her agency, which has been working for more than a year on updating its regulations, does not have a timeline for when those revisions might be ready. “All I can say is soon,” Hartstein said.

The agency is also working to update its website to make it more consumer-friendly.

A national referral service funded by the assisted-living industry, a Place for Mom, recently ranked Massachusetts last for the amount and type of information it makes readily available to consumers about services, such as inspection reports about facilities.

States that got high marks, including Missouri and Washington, allow consumers to search on their websites for residences by community or ZIP code and make inspection reports of the facilities available online, including information on corrective actions and fines.

This type of information is not available on the Massachusetts Elder Affairs website.

Department spokeswoman Martina Jackson told advisory council members that the agency is open to suggestions about how to improve its website. But Jackson said adding data or more reports may not be feasible because the agency’s computer system does not have the capacity to handle the load.

Elana Margolis, a council member and associate director of the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Boston, said statistics and reports the agency does post on its website are hard to find.

“For the regular Joe Schmo who doesn’t speak wonk . . . there should be some easily understandable” section with frequently asked questions, Margolis said.

Michael Poissant — a council member who also is on the board of Community VNA, a visiting nurses association — said after the meeting that he would like to see reports about accidents and injuries posted online so consumers would have that information available when they are shopping for assisted-living residences.

“The website doesn’t seem to be very current,” Poissant said.

Kay Lazar can be reachedat Kay.Lazar@globe.com.
Follow her on Twitter @GlobeKayLazar.
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