When the COVID-19 pandemic began in March of 2020, many assistance programs had to evaluate their current practices and adapt to the new challenges presented. Adult Protective Services (APS), which investigates allegations of abuse, neglect and exploitation of vulnerable adults, had to critically analyze how it could continue to operate while keeping clients and investigators safe. The services provided by APS are critical, especially now that mandatory reporters aren’t seeing vulnerable adults as often, it is important to ensure that these types of allegations are investigated.
The purpose of conducting an APS investigation is to assess through personal contact, the vulnerable adult’s physical, cognitive, psychological, and functional status. The vulnerable adult’s living environment, support system, and strengths are also evaluated. Allegations of abuse, exploitation, or neglect (including self-neglect) are investigated, and a case plan is developed with the participation of the vulnerable adult or vulnerable adult’s representative. APS works in partnership with law enforcement, the Attorney General’s Office, Administrative Law Judges and other agencies and community-based service providers to assist in facilitating services and supports that help protect vulnerable adults.
Early in the pandemic, facilities implemented social distancing practices which prevented APS entry, which required APS to conduct virtual visits to collect information. Initially, investigators held phone interviews, but were not able to conduct a thorough analysis of the allegations without visiting the victim.
In May of 2020, APS received a grant for $198,000 from the Arizona Criminal Justice Commission (ACJC) for first responders. While APS staff are not medical first responders, APS caseworkers are the first responders to reports of abuse, neglect, and exploitation of older adults. Because older adults are at highest risk of contracting COVID-19, those working in the APS field need to take special care with their clients--a majority of whom are over the age of 60.
A portion of the ACJC grant funded tablet computers to allow APS to perform virtual visits when possible while keeping investigators and clients safe. When appropriate, APS now performs the critical functions of intake and assessment by using Skype, Facetime, video conferencing or other technological means. This allows investigators to go on site only if deemed necessary, thereby reducing the risk of COVID-19 spread.
“Utilization of tablets was key,” said APS Program Administrator, Eric Thomas. If a client in the home has the ability to participate in video conferencing, the investigator conducts a video chat with them. If the client does not have that ability, the investigator will lend the client their tablet, then use their cell phone to video conference with the client. Some facilities also decided to provide tablets for residents in coordination with the facility to conduct video conferences.
Although the utilization of the tablets created an opportunity to conduct visual inspections, there was still a need to do physical investigations, especially in the rural areas where there is limited access or reception to WiFi, which is necessary for video chat. In addition, some clients with developmental disabilities may not have the ability to participate in a video chat.
“It really is a testament to our staff and their dedication that they’ve continued to push through during these unprecedented times and still provide services,” said Eric.
For more information on APS, visit the APS website.