© 2024 Kansas City Public Radio
NPR in Kansas City
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Missouri Adds More Ways To Report Elder Abuse After 1000s Of Calls Went Unanswered

Nathan Lawrence
The call center for Missouri's elder abuse and neglect hotline is in Jefferson City. In the first four months of 2019, only 39 percent of calls were answered.

Updated Nov. 25 at 5 p.m. with additional data— Missouri’s reporting system for adult abuse and neglect is undergoing significant changes after an investigation by the state’s attorney general. 

The investigation ended Monday, Attorney General Eric Schmitt’s office told KCUR. It recommended seven changes, including a new online reporting system in order to address the thousands of unanswered calls to the state’s hotline, as well as redirecting callers who are simply looking for information about local resources — not calling to report abuse. 

Missouri’s hotline only answered half of the 92,000 calls it received in 2018 and 39% of calls between January and April 2019, according to a joint investigation by KBIA and The Columbia Missourian published in May. That reporting spurred Schmitt’s investigation. 

Schmitt told KCUR on Monday, in advance of releasing more information publicly, that he was happy with the progress the state had made. 

"What we found was a lack of capacity, lack of data, wait times had gotten beyond what's acceptable. So it was really revealing of the challenges that Missourians experience as they would call in and have to deal with that," he said.

The online reporting system was announced earlier Monday. On top of that, the Division of Senior and Disability Services, which is under the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services, created a prompting system after finding that some people were calling to ask for local resources for seniors or people with disabilities.

The agency says the redirection of calls, along with reductions in hotline inefficiencies, has helped improve the number of calls that are answered.

In July, the hotline answered 52% of calls. After the redirection was implemented in October, the number of answered calls increased to 63% that month and 77% in November, according to data shared with KCUR.

“The launch of the online reporting system was really in addition to some other efficiencies that we’ve been working on internally when we identified issues with the inability of some of our callers to get through to the hotline,” Bax said. “We wanted to make sure that every call and every concern was able to be reported.”

While most of the seven changes have been made or are in the process of being implemented, Schmitt said, the division hasn’t increased the number of calls its queue can handle. KBIA reported earlier this year that the hotline can have four people waiting at a time; if the queue is maxed out, additional calls are dropped.

From July to November, about 3,000 calls were dropped because of this, according to data from the division.

Bax said the division is still considering increasing the queue because it doesn't want people waiting on hold for a long time.

Aviva Okeson-Haberman is the Missouri government and politics reporter at KCUR 89.3. Follow her on Twitter: @avivaokeson.

Aviva Okeson-Haberman was the Missouri government and politics reporter at KCUR 89.3.
KCUR serves the Kansas City region with breaking news and award-winning podcasts.
Your donation helps keep nonprofit journalism free and available for everyone.