ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — State regulators outlined a plan to lawmakers Wednesday for speeding up investigations of elder abuse and reducing Minnesota's backlog of unresolved cases.

Human Services Commissioner Emily Piper told a state Senate committee that a team of state officials is sorting through thousands of reports of maltreatment in senior homes. More than 2,300 reports have never been reviewed by state regulators because of poor record-keeping and other inefficiencies at the state agency charged with protecting seniors. Another 826 maltreatment cases have been assigned for investigation but never resolved, the Star Tribune reported.

The state Health Department now has a plan to eliminate that backlog by December.

"We are working to ensure that loved ones are not left in the dark and complaint investigations are completed in a timely manner," Piper told senators.

Republicans and Democrats both criticized regulators and the senior care industry for not recognizing the surge in abuse cases sooner.

"This isn't just smoke. This is an inferno," said Sen. Jim Abeler, R-Anoka, chairman of the Senate Human Services Finance and Policy Committee.

Reacting to a Star Tribune investigative series last November on breakdowns in the state's handling of maltreatment in senior homes, Gov. Mark Dayton gave the much-larger Department of Human Services broad new powers over the Health Department office that handles elder abuse allegations in senior homes. DHS officials immediately launched an effort to reduce the massive backlog of uninvestigated cases by bringing in more staff and setting more rigorous benchmarks for completing reviews.

"There are simply a lot of bad actors out there that are slipping under our radar," said acting Health Commissioner Dan Pollock, who took over at the agency last month after the previous health commissioner resigned. "As acting commissioner, I pledge that getting this right will continue to be my top priority."

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Information from: Star Tribune, http://www.startribune.com