The types and severity of nursing home abuse, neglect and exploitation are wide and varied, but the one thing anyone can agree on is that any such type of behavior is unacceptable, improper, inhumane, and illegal. These illegalities and improprieties are governed in part through civil and regulatory laws and enforcement. States and the federal government pass laws, rules and regulations that force nursing homes and long-term care facilities, among other healthcare providers, to operate with certain standards in caring for their patients and residents, who in many cases are elderly. On top of civil enforcement, acts of elder abuse or nursing home abuse and neglect are governed by our criminal laws as well. Nursing home staffers committing such acts can face serious criminal charges for their conduct. This can include heinous acts of physical abuse as well as sexual abuse and exploitation.
Illinois Sexual Assault Case
In a recent case in Illinois, a certified nursing assistant at the Crystal Pines Rehabilitation and Health Care Center was charged criminally with sexually assaulting a 92 year old female resident. We had actually reported on this issue in this blog space back in late 2011 after the accusations came to light. According to the record, the alleged victim suffered from dementia and as the Chicago Tribune reported, “was completely dependent on staff.” Without commenting directly on this case itself, it bears mentioning that while the elderly or those in need of care at a facility are typically more vulnerable, those with mental ailments like dementia are very much a vulnerable group. This affliction also fueled the accused’s defense attorney’s defense theory that the alleged victim was simply psychotic and deluded into thinking people were out to harm her. Doctors were unable to locate signs of trauma in examining her as well. Furthermore, the defense has relied on an argument that the defendant nursing assistant was “coerced” into “signing a false confession after a lengthy interrogation” by police.
In the most recent turn of the case, the judge declared a mistrial fairly soon into the proceedings. After both state prosecutors and defendant’s respective opening statements, only one witness was examined before the trial came to a halt, a mistrial was called and a new trial ordered. That one witness was a U.S. Secret Service Agent who in his testimony alluded to a polygraph test given to the defendant during the course of the investigation, but which was not admissible and thus should not have been mentioned in front of the jury. In most jurisdictions and court proceedings, polygraphs are not admissible because of questions over how reliable they can be. The new criminal trial against the former nursing home nursing assistant is now slated for November, and the conflicting arguments and evidence over the alleged victim’s mental status at the time of the alleged assault will continue to be the core issue in addition to that of the alleged forced confession. Unfortunately, since the time of the incident the alleged victim has passed away.
While the facts are in dispute and nothing has been proven, this case demonstrates how serious states are about abuse, so much that they will bring criminal charges where appropriate. This case also demonstrates the importance, on a more general level, of a fair due process for the accused. These are serious matters, and getting to the truth in a fair and just way is paramount.
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