Elder Abuse State Cameras

In this April 26, 2018, photo, James Bira sits next to his mother, Darlene Bira, 79, with one of the several cameras he has installed in his home in Brookfield, Wis. Bira installed and paid for them himself because he wanted to make sure caregivers were not stealing or abusing his mother, who suffers from dementia. (AP Photo/Ivan Moreno)

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JEFFERSON CITY — Missouri health officials on Monday launched a new online portal for reporting adult abuse and neglect after an investigation this year found the state was answering less than half of hotline calls.

The Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services said in a news release the tool "will allow for secure electronic submission of adult abuse, neglect and exploitation report information" as an "alternative to calling the Adult Abuse and Neglect Hotline."

The portal, according to the release, will be available 24/7, in contrast to the hotline, which is open every day from 7 a.m. to midnight. Reports will only be reviewed during hotline operating hours, the release said.

The new tool will "ensure all concerns of abuse, neglect and financial exploitation of the elderly and adults with disabilities are reported quickly," the release said.

The Columbia Missourian newspaper and KBIA radio station reported in May that last year, about half of calls to the state's adult abuse hotline went unanswered; more than 17,000 callers heard a "please call back" message, while another 10,000 callers hung up or otherwise dropped the call, the outlets reported.

From January through April of this year, the outlets reported, the state only answered about 39% of calls.

Reports of abuse or exploitation increased 35% over the last decade, the outlets reported. The investigation found that over the same time period, the office added only one hotline worker.

“There’s a ton of calls where people just hang up because of the length of time they’re having to be on hold,” Kathryn Sapp, policy unit bureau chief for the Division of Senior & Disability Services Adult Protective Services, under the DHSS, said in May.

Attorney General Eric Schmitt, after the DHSS announcement, issued a news release offering recommendations for improving the hotline.

His office opened an probe into the hotline after the news investigation. The office said Monday many of the attorney general's suggestions were already being implemented.

Among the recommendations: increasing staff levels during peak hours, measuring performance data such as average wait time, and improving the hotline's queue so more people can wait for an operator without being asked to call back.

Jack Suntrup • 573-556-6184

@JackSuntrup on Twitter

jsuntrup@post-dispatch.com

This article originally ran on stltoday.com.

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