Only about half of the 92,000 calls made to the Missouri Elder Abuse Hotline for reporting abuse to the elderly and disabled were answered last year, and at least 10,000 callers were hung up on or the calls were dropped before anyone answered.

“They’re not pretty numbers,” Kathryn Sapp, policy unit bureau chief for the Missouri Department of Health & Senior Services’ Division of Senior & Disability Services Adult Protection services, told the Missourian.

The state’s elder abuse hotline is designed to record reports of abuse, neglect or exploitation against people 60 years of age or older and those 18 years and older with disabilities. The hotline is staffed by 18 full-time and two part-time employees. As the age of Missouri residents increased, so has the number of calls to the hotline – by more than a third in the past 10 years. Staff can’t seem to keep up.

Calls include reports of a woman hitting her 38-year-old sister with cognitive disabilities and a man who severely beat his 70-year-old father for three hours. If calls cannot be immediately answered, up to four can be placed on hold. Calls that come in after that point are dropped. Those who are holding sometimes give up before their call is answered. One caller last February waited an hour and 22 minutes before his call was answered.

The Division of Senior & Disability Services says it didn’t realize there were problems with the hotline until late 2018, shortly after Jessica Bax took over as director. That’s when the department heard complaints about long hold times and dropped calls. But the data supplied by Unified Communications run by the Missouri Office of Administration didn’t include dropped or disconnected calls in its reports, and instead showed a 98.8% response rate. Adding in the dropped calls showed a more accurate picture.

The hotline is open from 7 a.m. until midnight daily, and there are no online submissions allowed. So those who call while the hotline is not staffed are instructed to fax in their reports. Chad Jordan, vice president of the nonprofit advocacy group Missouri Coalition for Quality Care, says the hotline should be staffed 24 hours a day.

The department said it is addressing inefficiencies with the hotline before it requests funding for additional workers. Bax also said the department will see how other states run their hotlines.

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