Texas workers caring for elderly leaving Adult Protective Services

Charla Gilliam has her morning routine down pat, complete with her gospel music, Joel Osteen sermons and reading case files for vulnerable older adults and disabled people she needs to see.

As an Adult Protective Services caseworker for the state, she has 40 or more cases of people who have been reported to the agency for potential abuse or neglect.

“You’re going to be praying to somebody when you go to these different places,” Gilliam says as she pulls into a driveway on a rainy June morning.

She’s visiting the first home on her list. It’s a physical neglect case she’s preparing to close soon about a man in hospice care at home with his wife. Adult Protective Services received a call accusing the hospice company of purposely taking away the machine that helps him breathe. The machine was replaced, but Gilliam’s following up.

She has other people she’s watching out for. There’s the man whose family padlocked the refrigerator shut. There’s the man who became paralyzed after a suicide attempt. There’s the husband who took his wife with multiple sclerosis off of his health insurance plan after finding out he wasn’t the father of their child.

“A lot of the time, you just never know what you’re walking into,” Gilliam said.

The agency — which is part of the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services — is experiencing high caseworker turnover and caseloads as these staffers work through the emotional toll of supporting and providing services for older and disabled Texans. Caseworkers are also unhappy about workers at Child Protective Services — which is also part of the department — getting significant raises after high-profile scrutiny from media and state leaders. As legislators head back to Austin for the 2019 legislative session in January, it’s unclear how much attention the agency focused on protecting vulnerable adults will receive.

“I do not want a client to die because we didn’t do our job and do it to the best of our ability,” said Kezeli Wold, associate commissioner for Adult Protective Services.