Usually when we discuss nursing abuse, we’re referring to staff members who take advantage of and victimize elderly patients.
However, there is an increasing amount of evidence to suggest another problem may in fact be the violence that occurs between residents. In fact, a recent study conducted by analysts at Cornell University indicated almost 1 in 5 nursing home residents is involved in an aggressive encounter each month. Most of these involve other residents.
While some of these incidents may be spontaneous, nursing home staff and administrators have a responsibility take action to prevent foreseeable dangers and to ensure residents have a safe place to live.
But this is not happening. In the Cornell study, researchers interviewed some 2,000 residents and spent up to six months observing in facilities. What they found was 16 percent were involved in verbal abuse, such as yelling, cursing or screaming, 6 percent were the victim of physical violence, which including biting, hitting and kicking, and 1 percent were victims of sexual abuse, which included unwanted touching, exposure of genitals and unwanted attempts to gain sexual favors.
A case of resident-on-resident nursing home sexual abuse was the subject of a recent criminal appeal in Vermont. In Vermont v. Breed, defendant was in his 70s and a resident at a residential facility for disabled adults and seniors when he was accused of sexually assault. He reportedly engaged in a sexual act without the woman’s consent after luring her into his room under false pretenses.
He was later arrested and convicted on charges of sexual assault and sexual assault on a vulnerable adult. Although the court ultimately vacated the sexual assault conviction on double jeopardy grounds because it was based on the same incident as the other crime, his conviction for sexual assault of a vulnerable adult was affirmed by the Vermont Supreme Court. The crime carries a penalty of between 2 and 20 years in prison.
This is a rare outcome for these crimes because very often, they aren’t reported. Or even if they are, there may not be enough evidence to prove the case beyond a reasonable doubt in criminal court.
However, if plaintiffs may be entitled to monetary compensation through the civil courts against the facility if it can be shown the nursing home failed to exercise reasonable care in ensuring their safety. Examples might include complaints of sexual harassment by another resident that go unaddressed and later lead to an assault or failure to have adequate staff or security to supervise residents or failure to have adequate lighting or not having the appropriate protocol for dealing with reports of sexual harassment or abuse.
A report issued by The National Consumer Voice for Quality Long-Term Care discussed the problem when patients with dementia suffer sexual assault. In one instance, an elderly male resident who suffered dementia and was known to be violent and sexually aggressive was reportedly seen sexually assaulting a female patient, also with dementia, but the nurse aides who saw it did not stop it, assuming it was hurting no one as neither would remember what happened.
This is indicative of how these cases are often handled, the advocacy group reports.
The analysis indicated dementia-driven resident-to-resident sexual abuse is the most common type of sexual abuse in nursing homes. Even where the criminal justice system may not pursue action due to the mental incompetence of the aggressor, the facility should be held liable for failing to stop such actions, particularly where such risks are known.
Freeman Injury Law — 1-800-561-7777 for a free appointment to discuss your rights.
Nursing Home Residents’ Aggression is Studied, Dec. 13, 2014, By Encarnacion Pyle, The Columbus Dispatch
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$750K to Family of Former Judge Who Died in Unlicensed Nursing Home, March 28, 2015, Palm Beach County Nursing Home Abuse Lawyer Blog