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Articles Posted in Sexual Abuse

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Currently, there are more than 15,000 nursing homes located across the entire United States. These facilities serve more than 1.4 million elderly residents each year. Over half of these nursing homes are for-profit entities. Much goes into running a successful nursing home – ownership and management must comply with proper hiring standards, Medicare/Medicaid requirements, invest in equipment, and implement services which could include counseling, mental health, rehabilitation, physical therapy, diet and nutrition, dementia/memory care, and pharmaceuticals/medication. With so many moving parts, the most important goal, patient health and well-being, can fall through the cracks.

While we all want to care for our loved ones, sometimes it is not possible – physically, emotionally, or financially. Dealing with a sick or elderly loved one can be difficult, and when nursing home facilities make promises to treat our friends and family well, we expect them to live up to them. Abuse or mistreatment can start out small but turn into a big problem if unaddressed. When visiting your loved one, whether he/she is a parent, grandparent, spouse, sibling, friend, or relative, it is important to always look for signs of potential misconduct. Sometimes they can be explained away, but other times they cannot.

1. Bodily changes

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The dreaded phone call comes, and you just cannot believe that it could be true. The call comes from a loved one who resides at a nursing home. The loved one tells you she has been sexually assaulted by one of the nurses or caregivers at the facility. The disturbing trend of nursing home employees sexually assaulting patients is becoming more and more widespread. Even harder to believe is that some nursing homes go to great lengths to cover up sexual abuse or quickly dismiss these allegations instead of conducting a meaningful investigation to find the truth.

It is well known why people are placed in nursing homes in the first place. For starters, they are unable to live independently and adequately care for themselves. Loved ones may not be able to provide them with the necessary care either. Oftentimes, nursing home residents are elderly, sick, and disabled. They have medical conditions preventing them from driving and functioning independently, including Alzheimer’s and dementia. Others have medical conditions requiring them to be monitored 24/7.  Some patients are wheelchair-bound which completely limits their mobility.

Sexual abuse is one form of nursing home abuse. When sexual predators are allowed to work in nursing homes, they are given an opportunity to prey on residents in their most weakened states. For example, a male nursing aid in Minnesota was sentenced to eight years in jail for raping an 83-year-old nursing home patient who had dementia. He was caught molesting the woman in her bed at Walker Methodist Health Center. The eight year sentence was one year more than what prosecutors were seeking. In defense of the sentence, the judge noted how the nursing aide “violated a position of trust” when he abused the patient.

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When a loved one can no longer be cared for by their family members alone, many turn to a nursing home to step in and provide the level of care their loved one needs to survive.  Family members expect and trust that the ones caring for their loved ones in that nursing home, including doctors and nurses, are doing so with the utmost care and respect for their family members. Nursing homes are trusted with providing essential services including health and hygiene. However, optimal care does not always end up being provided in these settings.  Sometimes, unfortunately, the people trusted with caring for the patient are the ones who inflict the most harm.

Nursing home abuse by caregivers takes many forms. For example, a caregiver may physically abuse a patient, including kicking, punching, or assaulting them. Sexual assault or molestation is another form of physical abuse. Patients can also suffer physical injuries as a result of malnutrition or dehydration. Further, improperly administering medication could increase an elderly patient’s risk of falling and injuring themselves.

Recent headlines highlight stories of of defenseless elderly persons or the disabled being intentionally abused by their caregivers.  For example, a Florence, Alabama nursing assistant was indicted after being accused of physically attacking a dementia patient. After becoming frustrated with the patient, the nursing assistant was accused of antagonizing the victim, causing the 89 year old patient to become even more combative.  According to reports, the nursing assistant struck the patient twice on the stomach and grabbed her arm, causing the patient’s skin to tear and bruise. She also sustained knots on her head. Similarly, in New Jersey, a Certified Nursing Assistant was arrested on charges involving slapping, squeezing the mouth, hair pulling, and pinching a patient.  News stories such as these are hard for anyone to read, especially since elderly and sick nursing home patients are essentially defenseless in those situations.

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The issue of sexual assault of elders in nursing homes is a serious one. The phrase promulgated on many college campuses to bring awareness to rape and other unwanted sexual encounters, “No Means No,” also applies in nursing homes. That is, elderly patients who do not maintain good cognitive condition may become victims of unwanted sexual advances and assaults. For example, elders who are Alzheimer’s patients or have dementia cannot effectively consent to sex because of their cognitive impairments resulting from those conditions. Moreover, sexual offenders and predators are usually attracted to individuals who are vulnerable. Certainly, elderly residents of nursing homes are vulnerable to sexual manipulation, coercion and assault.  When considering a nursing home or observing one in which a loved one is staying, consideration should be given to the security procedures of the facility. Are outsiders allowed to come and go, or must they check in? How often do aides and others check on individual residents, in order to assure that unwanted individual are not in their rooms? A check of local crime reports may also reveal sexual assaults or rapes near or in the facility.

Unfortunately, many nursing home sexual assaults are committed by third party criminals with no ties to the nursing home itself. For example, a man was arrested in September for walking into a Kentucky nursing home near Knoxville, Tennessee, and sexually assaulting a resident who had dementia. According to the police, he walked into the nursing home, entered the patient’s room, exposed his genitals, and let the patient hold them. A nurse entered the room, caught him in the act, and called the police. Officers charged the man with intoxication of alcohol, indecent exposure and sexual abuse.

Further, some nursing home residents are victims of sexual abuse by nursing home employees. A nursing home may negligently fail to conduct criminal history background checks on employees, or it may recklessly ignore an applicant’s prior history of sexual offenses. In such situations, the nursing home itself places vulnerable elderly residents in direct danger of sexual abuse. When considering a nursing home, ask administrators about their application hiring processes. Ask if they conduct criminal background checks on potential employees. Ask point-blank about whether any of their staff have prior charges or convictions for sexual offenses. Learn about the people who will be taking care of your loved one.

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