Quick action by Adult Protective Services staff saves a life

Contact: Jessica Nelson, DSHS Office of Communications

Jessica.Nelson1@dshs.wa.gov or (360) 628–1043

SPOKANE — Each day staff at DSHS’ Adult Protective Services work to protect people across the state of Washington, but recently two staff members saved a life, tracking down a vulnerable adult just in the nick of time.

It started when APS Intake Specialist Mercedes Fernandez heard from a caller concerned that a vulnerable adult had arrived at their house in medical distress. The caller didn’t have a lot of information for Fernandez to go on, so she got to work gathering the information an APS investigator would need to help.

This included searching several databases to confirm the vulnerable person’s name and tracking down their case worker to get a more complete history of their situation and where they might go. It was then Fernandez learned the person left a hospital against medical advice and was suffering from a broken hip and needed regular dialysis. During a follow-up conversation with the caller, Fernandez learned that the vulnerable adult had left the home, increasing the concern about their safety.

APS Investigator Stephanie Brooner got the case late in the afternoon. Typically, Brooner would have five days to follow up with this type of investigation. However, her instincts told her that she needed to find this person as soon as possible, so first thing the next morning she started calling around to the places they might have gone.

Even though none of those calls led to the vulnerable adult, they helped Brooner save valuable time, and her next move was to visit the patient’s last known address. The property was empty, with eviction notices warning people to stay away. A trailer at the front of the property made it hard to see inside. Then Brooner heard someone on the porch, and she quickly found the vulnerable adult in distress and barely breathing. Brooner dialed 911, and the vulnerable adult was rushed to the hospital for treatment.

Brooner says it all happened in a matter of minutes. She’s glad she recognized the danger this person was in and started her investigation right away.

“It felt good that my instincts were correct,” she says. “We all have gut feelings with this job, and we need to go with them sometimes.”

Brooner’s supervisor, Tanya Claiborne, says cases like this are a reminder of why their work is so important.

“At APS we have a big job, a difficult job,” she says. “It’s not always this dramatic. But when you have something this dramatic happen it’s a reality check, that the services we provide can be life and death.”

Claiborne also says the investigation wouldn’t have gone as smoothly without Fernandez’s great work on providing as much information as possible during the intake.

Fernandez says she’s humbled by the recognition, and glad to hear that the vulnerable adult was able to get help in time.

“When you’re doing this work, you don’t usually know the outcome. In intake you take the information and once it’s assigned you move on to the next case,” says Fernandez. “It was humbling and a great reminder that what we do is important. It opened my eyes.”

In 2022 DSHS’ Adult Protective Services received more than 65,800 reports and conducted more than 44,000 investigations in communities across our state. Every day APS workers strive to improve the quality of life for victims of mistreatment. Sometimes they do this on a grand scale like in this situation. In other times, APS helps in more subtle ways by offering services and other protective measures.

If you think a vulnerable adult is being abused, neglected or exploited, you can make a report to Adult Protective Services online or by calling 1–877–734–6277. For more information on recognizing the signs of abuse, visit our website.