Recent news breaking on CNN has brought to light many cases of sexual assault and rape against seniors in nursing home facilities. But this is nothing new to Jamie Richardson, founder of Mission Possible Investigations. Working early in his career as an elder abuse investigator, he saw firsthand the abuse and neglect that can happen in these facilities as well as the challenges to prosecute and stop these crimes.
As noted in the CNN article, “In cases reviewed by CNN, victims and their families were failed at every stage. Nursing homes were slow to investigate and report allegations because of a reluctance to believe the accusations -- or a desire to hide them. Police viewed the claims as unlikely at the outset, dismissing potential victims because of failing memories or jumbled allegations. And because of the high bar set for substantiating abuse, state regulators failed to flag patterns of repeated allegations against a single caregiver.”
What can families do to provide their loves one? Know the risk, stay vigilant about care, and fight tirelessly for information. The administration and staff at nursing homes are entrusted to care for the health, welfare and safety of the residents but are often the perpetrators of abuse. It’s important to remember though that abuse can come from many different places including other residents, visiting family members, and even strangers that enter unsecured facilities.
The physical and mental frailty of many nursing home residents increases their vulnerability and lessens the chance that abuse will be reported and remedied. Patients suffering from dementia, other impaired cognitive functioning, and a high degree of dependence can leave victims particularly vulnerable and are often seen as the highest risk for victimization.
Further, several studies have shown that poor staffing and institutional indifference create conditions for abuse. Assessing risk factors associated with abuse are often an important step. Consider the following questions: Does the facility have any abuse prevention policies in place? What is the level of staff training and what are the staff background screening procedures? What is the staff to patient ratio and are there high staff turnover rates? What is the facility’s history of deficiencies and complaints?
In addition, the quality of a resident’s relationships with family and their caregivers should also be given consideration. Residents who do not receive visits often may be more vulnerable because there no one from outside the facility to regularly check on their care. However, in some situations, over-zealous family members may actually impede the provision of care. Similarly, the risk rises if resident-staff interaction includes past conflicts, or there is little time available to develop personal relationships.
When abuse and neglect occur at a facility, even if staff are not the accused, the facility can still be held liable for the harm for reasons including the following: negligence in the provision of care, the supervision of residents and employees, the hiring of staff, and the maintenance of premises and equipment.
Nursing home residents are provided a number of legal rights found both in federal and state laws in addition to the basic right to be protected from abuse. These typically include rights to privacy and confidentiality, choices in treatment and care, clear and accessible grievance procedures, and equal treatment by facility staff.
If abuse is suspected, appropriate calls should be made to the police, adult protective services and Long Term Care Ombudsman program, which investigates and resolves complaints made by or on behalf of nursing home residents concerning their health and welfare, safety, and rights. The ombudsman program also maintains a regular presence in facilities by making regular visits to monitor care and provide information and education on long-term care services and conditions in nursing homes. Families of victims should not rely on nursing home staff to call in the investigators, even if they are directed not to call because an “internal investigations” is taking place. Families need to be proactive in ensuring the safety of their loved ones.
Private investigators can be utilized in a number of ways on these suspected cases including doing undercover and surveillance work but most should be willing to work with others investigating to ensure that evidence is not destroyed or mishandled.
For more information on the subject, check out CNN’s story “Sick, dying and raped in America's nursing homes.”