Home > Uncategorized > DPPC’s public presentation of data on abuse is unclear

DPPC’s public presentation of data on abuse is unclear

After a lengthy series of inquiries from COFAR, the state Disabled Persons Protection Commission (DPPC) has acknowledged that data in its annual reports on abuse in Massachusetts do not necessarily reflect the actual number of cases that it investigates or refers for investigation.

In letters in response to an April 12 order by the state’s public records supervisor to clarify to COFAR how the DPPC reports its data, a DPPC official said that the numbers listed in the DPPC’s annual reports of both “abuse reports” and “investigations” are not necessarily based on separate occurrences of alleged abuse. Those numbers are based instead on the number of calls or “intakes” that the DPPC receives from witnesses or other reporters.

As a result, the DPPC’s data “may be “inflated” because the agency’s “current method of data extraction can produce duplications when multiple intakes are received on the same incident,”  according to Andrew Levrault, the DPPC’s assistant general counsel. Levrault said the agency’s database was “undergoing a redesign process, and this is one of the features we are hoping to improve.”

Levrault also stated in an email that the DPPC’s data may be “deflated” in some other instances.

The DPPC undertakes investigations of alleged abuse and neglect of adults under 60 with disabilities in Massachusetts, and supervises additional cases that it refers for investigation to the Departments of Developmental Services (DDS) and Mental Health (DMH) and to the Massachusetts Rehabilitation Commission (MRC). As such, the DPPC’s data are relied on by policymakers, researchers, journalists, and others as important indicators of the quality of life of persons with disabilities.

In light of the critical role that the DPPC plays, it is vital that data and other information that the agency publicly provides about the care and conditions of persons with disabilities be accurate and presented in a clear and straightforward way.

Levrault said that in contrast to the DPPC, DDS, to which the DPPC refers most of its cases for investigation, does report data based on the actual number of cases it investigates.

The differences between the DPPC and DDS in reporting abuse data make it difficult to compare that data, not only among agencies in Massachusetts, but potentially between Massachusetts and other states. COFAR has been attempting to analyze aggregate data on abuse and abuse investigations done by the DPPC, DDS, and other agencies.

The DPPC’s most recent online annual report for Fiscal Year 2017 states that the agency received 11,395 “abuse reports” that year, and that of that number, 2,571 “investigations” were assigned to investigators from the DPPC, DDS, DMH, and the MRC.

In his May 1 letter, Levrault stated that:

…the 2,571 investigations listed in the Fiscal Year 2017 Annual Report specifically refers to investigations of 2,571 intakes.

Levrault stated in the email that a single intake may refer to one or more occurrences of alleged abuse, or conversely, that “multiple intakes” may refer to a single occurrence of alleged abuse.

As a result, it appears that while the DPPC annual report listed 2,571 “investigations” in Fiscal 2017, it is unlikely that that number represents the number of investigations that were actually undertaken by the DPPC and by DDS, DMH, and the MRC. Similarly, the 11,395 abuse reports listed in the annual report for that year may or may not represent the actual number of alleged occurrences of abuse that were reported to the DPPC.

In a comparison of data from both the DPPC and DDS, COFAR found that the number of abuse intake calls referred by the DPPC to DDS for investigation each year from Fiscal Year 2010 to 2018 was, on average, 22.5% higher than the number of cases that DDS reported investigating. (See chart below created from data from both agencies.)

Chart on DPPC versus DDS numbers of abuse investigationsFY 10-18

Those differences appear to be due to the differences in the ways that the DPPC and DDS report the data.

The accuracy of the DPPC’s data reporting is certainly a problem that can be corrected if and when the agency redesigns its database. It raises a question, however, as to why the DPPC has not made it clear in its annual reports as to what the data reported in them actually represents.

Yet, we have already seen that the DPPC is highly resistant to public disclosure of its investigative reports, and is pushing for legislation that would wrap a tighter cloak of secrecy around its records.

In failing to be clear about the meaning of its published data, the DPPC has not been transparent or straightforward about the scope and nature of the problem of abuse and neglect in Massachusetts.

The DPPC is the only independent agency available when family members or others discover abuse and neglect in the DDS system. Without the DPPC, the best option for reporters of abuse would be to dial 911. Yet the DPPC is an agency that needs to place a higher value than it currently does on the public’s right to know.

 

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