MONTPELIER, Vt. — The Vermont agency responsible for overseeing investigations of abuse, neglect and exploitation of elderly residents has agreed to eliminate by Oct. 1 a backlog that at one time approached 300 cases awaiting investigation by hiring staff, responding to calls with 48 hours and establishing new procedures to avoid future problems.

Vermont Legal Aid and two advocacy groups had threatened to sue the Department of Disabilities, Aging and Independent Living if officials had not agreed to the corrective action plan signed Tuesday by advocates and Commissioner Susan Wehry.

Advocates became aware of the size of the backlog at a December meeting with state officials.

“It’s been a problem for years,” said Attorney Barbara Prine of Legal Aid’s Disability Law Project. “People for the most part had lost faith in the adult protective system.”

Wehry said Wednesday the administration of Gov. Peter Shumlin committed to solving the problem and reducing the backlog even before Shumlin took office in January.

“It became the top priority of mine and the department,” she said.

On Feb. 18 Wehry said officials counted a backlog of 278 cases more than 60 days old. Each person involved was called and high priority cases investigated immediately. As of late last month 79 of those lower priority cases remained outstanding. Meanwhile, new cases have continued to come in.

The advocates said the backlog was caused by limited staffing and the situation was worsened by budget cuts at the department’s division of Adult Protective Services. In some cases abusive situations went months without being uninvestigated.

Among the details in the corrective action plan:

— The state will hire additional temporary and permanent investigative staff to look into elder abuse cases;

— The backlog of complaints will be cleared by Oct. 1;

— The department must respond to all calls within 48 hours;

—  The department must develop  training materials for staff with input from advocates;

— Legal Aid and Disability rights Vermont will monitor cases; and

— An advisory committee will be established to work for future improvements.