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Sexual abuse has no place in nursing homes

Making the decision to place a loved one in a nursing home or long-term care facility is never easy. But the decision is often mitigated by the idea that your loved one will receive a level of care and supervision that you and your family are not able to provide.

So, imagine the horror of learning that your loved one was sexually assaulted or abused at one of these facilities by a supposed "caregiver." CNN recently reported on incidences of sexual assault and abuse in nursing homes. Below are some of the findings.

Sexual abuse in elder care facilities

Over 1,000 nursing homes were cited for the administrators' mishandling cases of suspected sexual abuse. One aide was accused of serially abusing residents at various facilities. He simply quit and found another job elsewhere when allegations were leveled against him.

Other examples:

  • A nursing home in the western U.S. informed police of a woman resident's sexual assault claim in July. The surgical patient reported a nursing assistant forced himself upon her as she lay in bed. The employer's internal investigation later dismissed the "confused" woman's claims and rehired the aide. 
  • Two Midwestern assisted-living workers took pictures of nude patients and shared them with others. The pair served as patient caregivers at an assisted-living community that housed residents in 76 separate apartments. They were accused of taking pictures of elderly residents who were being bathed or were otherwise in some state of undress. Another photo depicted a patient vomiting, according to courtroom reports. Even though those pictures were sent via Snapchat, a program that deletes photos almost immediately after they are sent, the pair admitted that they had sent the photos to each other and some of their friends.

Could it happen at your loved one's nursing home?

Sexual abuse can happen anywhere. But an isolated single instance that is quickly contained, with the abuser held accountable, is far different from repeated abuses where no one is arrested and tried. How can you know if your loved one's facility is a safe one?

Family members can take these steps:

  1. Visit the website "Nursing Home Compare" and find the facility by its location or name.
  2. There is a star level rating on the initial results page. The rating reflects various factors affecting the quality of care rendered, such as staff-to-patient ratios.
  3. Under the section for "Health Inspection," incidents of abuse will be found. Click the rating for a summary of the latest inspection of the facility.
  4. Then, click "View all health inspections." Details of specific dates will be found under the heading "View full report."
  5. On the facility's home page, click "Penalties" to determine whether the inspection generated payment denials or fines.
  6. Older citations are archived and reports can be downloaded. If you are stonewalled, you have the option of filing a request for public records.

Practice advocacy

Realize that you are the advocate for your loved one in a nursing home when he or she is too debilitated physically or mentally to take action. Let the caregivers and administrators know you and see your presence as a visitor.

Take photos with your loved one routinely so that you have a record of his or her physical condition. Demand explanations for bruising, cuts or other visible injuries. Spend time alone with the resident away from caregivers so he or she can speak freely, if they are able, about any fears or threats of violence or assault they may have received.

Let those in charge know that you are aware and involved in your loved one's care and will take action when necessary. Don't be afraid to involve an Illinois attorney who is familiar with elder abuse laws if necessary.

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