Riverside County workers who oversee the affairs of elderly and developmentally disabled residents are overloaded with cases and are operating under dated guidelines, according to a county grand jury report that the Board of Supervisors will review Tuesday.
The 19-member grand jury completed an inquiry that included interviews, an analysis of policies and procedures and inspections of numerous records in the Public Guardian's Office, a branch of the Department of Mental Health with a $1.5 million annual budget.
Public guardian "deputies" are often appointed to act as conservators for indigent residents without close family to support them. The grand jury report indicated that clients are mostly physically incapacitated seniors, but also include mentally ill or disabled adults and others with health vulnerabilities but no means to help themselves.
The office has 10 case workers, or deputies, three supervisors and a clerical staff of five, according to the grand jury report.
Jurors noted that deputies are routinely called to investigate reports of abuse and to find suitable living arrangements for clients who have no assets and are dependent on Medicare or Medi-Cal.
The grand jury report found public guardian deputies carry caseloads as high as 196 conservatees.
"Sworn testimony indicated that caseloads are unmanageable," the report states. "It was revealed that there were tasks that additional clerical personnel could do that would free up the deputies, (who) said that they must prioritize tasks, according to importance, and that consequently some tasks are left undone or are delayed."
Jurors found that deputies are operating under policies and procedures that haven't been updated in 25 years. The office's policy manual did not contain an index that would "facilitate" finding topics at a glance, and was missing some probate and penal code amendments that have become law since 1988.
Public guardian staff complained of having to use antiquated office equipment and told jurors that their last staff meeting was conducted in April.
The grand jury issued the following recommendations:
-- have a limitation on the number of caseloads to ensure a more efficient operation;
-- update the policy manual to "reflect current practices," with an index to enable quick referencing of information;
-- permit the hiring of more clerical workers;
-- secure additional funding to expand the number of deputies on staff
-- obtain "scanners, printers, headphones and ergonomic furniture" for the benefit of employees; and
-- hold monthly staff meetings.
The county Executive Office has 90 days to respond to the jury's findings and recommendations. --City News Service