CNN recently released a powerful investigative report on nursing home sexual abuse. Story after story, case after case, victim after victim. The nursing homes, perpetrators and victims were different, but the same heartbreaking story was the same. Sexual assault victims, placed in the care of trusted professionals, abused, raped and tortured at the facilities they were supposed to be safe in. Family members testifying against the nursing aides, caretakers, facility cooks, nurses, directors; those they most trusted to care for their aging loved ones. Elderly people living through unimaginable heartbreaks in their final years of life.
Sexual assault in nursing homes isn't a new problem. Low wages, poor training, late hours, overpopulation, inadequate supervision and vulnerable residents come together, creating a breeding ground for predators. Victim's claims of sexual assault are too often ignored because of their age, cognitive conditions, or to avoid any bad press.
"There are some situations where they don't realize it's happened, and they don't want to believe it. They just don't understand it," said Ann Burgess, a well-known nurse and Boston College nursing professor who specializes in the assessment and treatment of elderly sexual abuse victims. "There are other cases where they try to cover it up. ... They blame the victim." - CNN Investigations
The elderly population is booming, expected to more than double between 2010 and 2050 according to the CNN report. These tragedies have been happening for years, and as the elderly population grows, the potential for more sexual assaults does as well. Though there are federal and state laws in place to protect nursing home residents, they are not always followed by the staff. Assailants are not charged, facilities are not penalized, victims receive no justice.
Protecting a loved one from nursing home sexual abuse is extremely challenging. Recognizing and exposing the abuse is also incredibly difficult. While the protection of all nursing home residents should be the primary responsibility of the facilities, there are steps you can take to protect your loved ones. Mitchell Lipkin, an experienced personal injury lawyer passionate about advocating for victims with nowhere to turn, shares his insight:
1. Before placing your loved one in a facility, do your research. Ask the nursing home staff:
- Whether they perform criminal background checks on their employees
- If there have been allegations of sexual or physical abuse or neglect
- What training employees receive to help identify and report abuses
- How the facility is staffed and how the staff is supervised, especially overnight
2. Review outside resources for complaints and reports:
- Check the Illinois Department of Public Health/Nursing Home web site for a history of violations for particular nursing home. The Reports of Nursing Home Violations are released quarterly.
- Medicare.gov allows you to search for and compare area Medicare- and Medicaid-participating nursing homes and provides information that includes data on inspections, staffing and quality complaints as well as penalties.
3. Maintain frequent contact with your loved one in a nursing home. Ask the hard questions and check in regularly. Nursing home sexual abuse is a crime of opportunity, the more present and engaged you are, the less opportunity you provide.
4. Be assertive in asking questions of the staff and administrators if your loved one manifests unusual behavior. Trust your instincts and your loved one, don't settle for excuses, apologies or defensive behaviors.
5. Consider transferring your loved one to another facility if you suspect abuse or neglect.
CNN reported that there were 386 allegations of sexual abuse of nursing home residents recorded in the state of Illinois since 2013, 201 of which involved a caretaker. 59 were substantiated. If you're here because you fear for the safety of your loved ones in a nursing home facility, or suspect they have already been a victim or sexual or physical abuse or neglect, please contact us. Nursing home abuse is underreported, leaving victims helpless and without a voice. As advocates for the elderly, we want to hear your story. Call us at (312) 624-9342 or use the contact form on our website. Together, we can talk through your options for protecting your loved one.