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DPPC ordered to clarify its abuse reporting system following data inflation admission

April 16, 2019 1 comment

In the wake of an acknowledgement by the Disabled Persons Protection Commission (DPPC) that some of the data it had provided COFAR on abuse may be inflated, the state’s public records supervisor has ordered the agency to clarify the nature of the data it publishes.

The April 12 decision by Public Records Supervisor Rebecca Murray is in response to an appeal filed by COFAR after the DPPC stated that it was unable to provide data on the actual number of “abuse allegations” the agency receives each year and the number of such allegations that are substantiated by investigations.

In emails in March, Andrew Levrault, DPPC assistant general counsel, stated that spreadsheet data on abuse complaints and investigations, which the DPPC had previously provided to COFAR, “may be inflated.” He later stated, in a response to COFAR’s appeal, that the DPPC’s data may be “deflated” in some other instances.

Levrault said that the probable data inflation occurred because the agency does not track actual abuse allegations, but rather tracks abuse “intakes,” which are calls made to the agency. He said there may be “multiple” intake calls for each allegation, and that the DPPC is unable to “extract” the number of actual allegations that the agency receives.

Levrault’s statements appear to leave it unclear whether data listed in the DPPC’s annual reports accurately represents the number of abuse allegations or incidents that the agency is informed of or investigates. Levrault did claim in an email that the numbers in the annual reports are not inflated.

In her April 12 decision, Murray stated that while the DPPC has noted that it cannot extract data by allegation, “the DPPC did not clarify whether it could produce the data to back up the numbers DPPC uses to draft its Annual Reports.”

Murray noted that COFAR has questioned “how it is possible that DPPC is able to report the number of abuse reports and number of investigations, if it cannot extract that data from its database. I find that DPPC must clarify this.”

In an email on March 14, Levrault acknowledged deficiencies in the DPPC’s abuse tracking system. He stated that:

…our current method of data extraction can produce duplications when multiple intakes are received on the same incident.  The database is undergoing a redesign process, and this is one of the features we are hoping to improve.

Later, in an April 8 response to COFAR’s records appeal, Levrault stated that when compared to the record keeping system used by the Department of Developmental Services (DDS), to which the DPPC refers many of the abuse complaints it receives:

… the DPPC’s figures may be elevated in some instances, and may be deflated in others–depending on the nature of the comparison.

Yet, when asked by COFAR, also on March 14, whether the numbers of “abuse reports” listed in the DPPC’s annual reports are therefore likely inflated, Levrault replied that the numbers in the annual reports “are not inflated. They are consistent with our long-standing statutory reporting requirements, which mandate that we report the ‘number of claims of abuse.’ (emphasis in the original)

Levrault did not explain how it could be the case that the DPPC is able to report accurate or non-inflated numbers in its annual reports if the agency is unable to track or extract data on abuse allegations, and tracks only data on intakes.

The DPPC’s most recent annual report for Fiscal Year 2017 states that the agency received 11,395 “abuse reports” that year, and that it had “screened in” 2,571 of those reports for investigation by the DPPC itself and other agencies.

The annual report stated that the same number of 2,571 “investigations” was assigned to investigators from the DPPC, the Department of Developmental Services, the Department of Mental Health, and the Massachusetts Rehabilitation Commission, and that those investigators had completed 1,866 of those investigations.

It is unclear whether the 11,395 “abuse reports” cited in the 2017 annual report is a reference to intakes or to allegations.  However, given that the annual report refers to 2,571 of those 11,395 abuse reports as representing “investigations,” it would appear that the number 11,395 does refer to actual allegations.

If, however, it is the case that the spreadsheet data provided to COFAR by the DPPC is inflated, it would render that data virtually useless in attempting to determine the number of abuse allegations that agency receives and investigates each year.

However, Levrault also stated in a separate email on March 14 that:

Each intake received by the DPPC is assigned a separate case number.  If the DPPC receives multiple intakes involving the same allegation and the allegation meets the DPPC’s jurisdiction, then the intakes will be combined for investigation.  Moving forward, the DPPC case would then be identified by the combined intake numbers. (my emphasis)

That statement by Levrault appeared to imply that the agency does, in fact, keep documentation on the number of abuse cases that it either investigates or refers to other agencies for investigation.

As a result, COFAR asked the DPPC on March 15 for the number of abuse allegations and investigations resulting from intake reports that the DPPC had “combined for investigation.” When Attorney Levrault responded that the DPPC had no responsive records to that request, COFAR appealed the matter to the state’s Public Records Supervisor.

DDS does track abuse allegations

As noted, Levrault stated in his April 8 response to COFAR’s appeal that unlike the DPPC, DDS does have the capability of tracking individual abuse allegations or cases. The DPPC refers the majority of the abuse complaints it receives to DDS for investigation.

COFAR has previously reported that the DPPC actually has a lower abuse-allegation caseload per investigator than DDS, and that the DPPC has substantiated a higher percentage in recent years of the allegations it has investigated itself than has DDS.

In reporting those percentages, COFAR was assuming that the DPPC was consistent in reporting the number of allegations it was investigating itself, and the number of allegations that DDS was investigating.

In the past year, we have been battling with the DPPC over the transparency of the agency’s investigative policies. We think our latest appeal concerning the data the DPPC publishes underscores the need for a major review and overhaul of those policies and procedures.