As most people who have searched or are searching for long-term care for their elders are aware, finding an appropriate facility is no easy task. The last few years have seen countless reports of substandard care and management across the nation. Just last July, a disturbing report revealed that residents in a third of nursing homes are abused.
However, as disturbing as these events are – ranging from neglect to exploitation to physical violence – residents’ families could never expect anything as unspeakable as sexual abuse or rape.
A graphic new investigation by CNN, conducted over 5 months in facilities across the country, has gone into detail about just that. Perhaps worse is that nursing home managers and state health officials simply aren’t doing enough to stop it from happening.
Victims and Families Were Utterly Failed
In this first-of-its kind study, investigators visited homes, interviewed experts and families of victims, and analyzed years’ worth of government data to find that the issue is more widespread than once thought. Over 1,000 nursing homes between 2013 and 2016 were cited for sexual abuse and failed to investigate or prevent it.
While most citations concerned cases of residents abusing other residents, at least a quarter of assaults were by staff members and were much more serious. These incidents spanned everything from willful neglect to nursing home employees’ reluctance to believe or expose alleged attacks. Even police dismissed cases put forth by victims with jumbled memories.
The report describes sickening details of victims being forced into nightmarish situations by the very people who were hired to protect them. Those “caregivers” who so gruesomely betrayed the trust that vulnerable patients and their families extended to them.
“You violated (a) position of authority, a position of trust,” said Judge Elizabeth Cutter to a perpetrator in 1 case. “The ramifications of what you did are so far-reaching. It also affected everyone in that facility. Everyone who stays in that facility. Everyone who works at that facility. It affects everyone who has to place a loved one in a facility.”
Unfortunately, this same perpetrator was allowed to get away with his inexpressible crime because he had slipped through the fingers of authorities before – several times. He was investigated for several other sexual assault allegations – in at least 2 of which he was the main suspect – since 2008. These events all occurred while he was on duty at night at the Walker Methodist Health Center in Minneapolis. Not only was he kept on the night shift – but when Walker Methodist finally dismissed him, he was somehow re-employed by another facility.
The victim has now passed away; the offender’s comeuppance is hopefully a small mercy for her family. But to this day, other cases outlined in the CNN report haven’t even yet been solved.
Ignoring the Problem Is Far from the Answer
The nation’s elder abuse epidemic has clearly gone too far. And as experts told CNN, elder abuse is not uncommon because of how easily predators can target nursing home residents.
Predators who make their way into employed positions in nursing home and long-term care facilities quickly find that elders, vulnerable as they are, are easy prey. Often because such patients are suffering from a number of ailments, both physical and mental, including, for example, Alzheimer’s disease and dementia.
Another factor is that nursing facilities pay nursing assistants low wages: typically $11-$12 per hour. Unable to attract quality workers, they are often understaffed – or else staffed with criminals and people who lack the training to spot them. This, of course, has much to do with the greedy nature of the business, and the fact that many for-profit nursing home facilities are in it for the cash.
But the third, very real, issue is that those who have the authority to make a difference aren’t taking appropriate action – often, disgustingly, for financial reasons. Although this report unearthed more than 1,000 cases, so many others stay hidden or aren’t taken seriously, and the number will only keep rising. The elderly population of America is expected to more than double between 2010 and 2050.
The failures of nursing homes, authorities, and state regulators to act diligently in these cases makes it difficult for victims to get the justice they deserve. Sadly, this is an issue that is rarely talked about – but it’s happening every day all over the country. As families and friends of nursing home residents, coming forward when something seems amiss is absolutely crucial. As a nation, we need to unite in our efforts to turn this horrific reality around.