It’s something that is difficult to talk about and sometimes not always easy to identify.
Sexual abuse in nursing homes can take several forms. It can be the aide who takes inappropriate pictures of a patient while bathing. It could also be another patient.
In cases where both victim and aggressor suffer from conditions like dementia, there could be a tendency by staff to brush off the known sexual encounters as two people seeking affection. But we have to be very careful not to make assumptions in these cases because one of the first questions should be: Can a person with limited mental function give consent? Often, the answer is no.
A troubling case out of Washington state shows what can happen when nursing home staff are too quick to dismiss these interactions as consensual. According to news reports, numerous instances of sexual contact between a male dementia patient and several female patients was deemed consensual by the director of nursing, who chose not to report the interactions to either the state or the families.
The first incident allegedly occurred in January of last year. Both patients involved were in the dementia ward. A housekeeper passed by a room and saw the male standing over a woman, his pants around his legs, holding her hand and forcing her to touch his genitals. The woman was unable to move. She couldn’t fight back or even call for help. The housekeeper reportedly yelled at the man to stop, and then reported the incident to the nursing director. However, the nursing director didn’t file a report with the state and all she told the woman’s sister was she was “suddenly losing weight.”
In another instance involving this same male patient, another staffer saw the man pull a different patient’s hands to his genitals. The nurse who witnessed this did not yell or take any other intervening action besides, “make eye contact.”
He then was seen going into the first victim’s room twice more until she was finally able to communicate to staffers that what was happening was abuse.
Still, the director of nursing services insisted this was a situation of consensual sexual activity between dementia patients. She told subordinates there was nothing they could do “until he crosses the line.”
It’s unclear how the director didn’t view these actions as “crossing the line,” or how she viewed the nursing home administration as powerless in this situation when all they needed to do was to call the state to launch an investigation.
The home did eventually contact the state, but only after he was spotted stealing a dining room key and was later found fondling the breasts of another dementia patient. Sheriff’s officials were then called because the male patient was “being unruly.” The caller stated he was “getting more and more sexual with some of his exploits.”
The male was ultimately transported to a local hospital for a medication adjustment, but has yet to be admitted back tot he center.
In a spontaneous interaction that occurred between a sister of the victim and the nursing home operator, the sister raised her voice as she tells him his aides could have called to report this after the first incident.”
“Should have,” he responded.
That statement was later cited by state officials investigating the incident, and played a role in the operator losing his license. The center is now being run by his brother.
In the meantime, at least one nursing home abuse lawsuit has been filed against the center for failing to protect the patient.
Call Freeman Injury Law — 1-800-561-7777 for a free appointment to discuss your rights. Now serving Orlando, West Palm Beach, Port St. Lucie and Fort Lauderdale.
Owner has license pulled after nursing home sexual abuse, Jan. 18, 2016, By Jon Humbert, KOMO News
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Drug Theft in Nursing Homes a Growing Problem, Jan. 17, 2016, Orlando Nursing Home Abuse Lawyer Blog