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Special Report: Sexual Abuse of Nursing Home Residents Rampant

A CNN Investigations report delved into the pervasive and disturbing – but hugely underreported – issue of nursing home sexual abuse. wheelchair

Noting that “it’s impossible to know” the exact number of victims who suffer this abuse, state and federal data, along with interviews with experts, regulators and families of victims indicates this problem is far more common than what one might suspect. Worse is the fact that many times, neither the nursing home nor government regulators that oversee these facilities seem to do be doing much to address the issue.

Reporters noted that in some cases, nursing home employees and administrators and government agencies can’t get far with these investigations because victims are unable to communicate what happened to them or even identify who it was that caused them harm. However, there are a substantial number of cases wherein negligence and even willful concealment is at issue. The news organization detailed cases in which nursing home administrators were slow to investigate and report allegations, often because, as they would later explain, they didn’t want to believe the allegations were true. Police often approach these matters with great skepticism, often using any opportunity to dismiss the victim’s statements due to allegations that aren’t concise or memories that are failing. Further, because there is a high standard of proof when it comes to substantiating an allegation of abuse by a state regulator, even individuals who have been repeatedly accused of abuse may never be red-flagged. 

In one case out of Minnesota that actually resulted in a conviction for sexual assault, the defendant had repeatedly been accused of sexually assaulting other residents, both at that same nursing home and at others prior. However, none of the abuse allegations were ever substantiated and he continued working at the facility. One case involved a 65-year-old woman with multiple sclerosis. Another involved an 83-year-old woman who was both blind and deaf. However, it wasn’t until he was actually observed by another caregiver in the act of a sexual assault involving an 83-year-old woman at 4:30 a.m. that he was finally arrested and held to account. He begged the judge for leniency, noting such actions were “out of character” for him. The previous reports would suggest otherwise.

Many of these cases involve victims who are not only vulnerable, but deeply ashamed and also afraid. In some cases, victims may have only had one sexual partner in their entire lives. These are assaults not only on their bodies, but on their dignity. Further, many victims rely on caregivers for help with even the most basic tasks. This kind of violation – and the fact that these individuals often get away with it, as evidence by this report – can make victims fearful of coming forward.

CNN combed through federal government data to better understand the scope of the problem. Although sexual assaults aren’t separately categorized by regulators, reporters were able to glean this information by searching for certain keywords in digital inspection reports. What they found was that 226 nursing homes were cited for failure to protect residents from substantiated cases of sexual abuse between 2010 and 2015. Of those, about 60 percent resulted in fines, totaling about $9 million in all. However, only 16 facilities were cut off permanently from federal funding from Medicare and Medicaid. This analysis did not include assisted living facilities.

But even then, these figures only tell a sliver of the story of nursing home abuse because they omit the instances in which nursing homes are cited for improper handling of sexual abuse allegations in ways like cover-ups or botched investigations.

When CNN looked at inspection reports using keywords for these types of offenses, they discovered more than 1,000 facilities cited between 2013 and 2016 for mishandling or failure to prevent cases of alleged sexual assault, sexual abuse and rape. Approximately 100 were cited numerous times throughout this three-year span.

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Additional Resources:

SICK, DYING AND RAPED IN AMERICA’S NURSING HOMES, February 2017, By Blake Ellis and Melanie Hicken, CNN

More Blog Entries:

Nursing Home Wandering/ Elopement Can Create Liability, Feb. 27, 2017, Orlando Nursing Home Abuse Lawyer Blog

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