Out of Oklahoma, which is one of the worst states in the country for nursing home quality of care, comes another incredibly sad story of nursing home abuse that has resulted in some form of justice, though not one that can ever change what happened. The daughters of a 96 year old nursing home resident, who suffered from dementia, sued the facility when they discovered evidence that their mother was abused by two staffers at the nursing home. The lawsuit proceeded in federal court, and resulted in a jury verdict for $1.2 million. As reports indicate, defense attorneys for the nursing home intend to appeal the verdict, which they characterized as “excessive.” The staffers were fired, but that was the least of their punishments. One of the accused aids, who reportedly was in the U.S. illegally, was arrested and charged criminally, and eventually plead guilty and was sentenced to serve two years behind bars. The other worker fled.
The Nursing Home Abuse
The abuse of the 96 year old patient came to light in late 2012 when secret surveillance video, installed by her daughters in her room on the suspicion that someone was stealing, revealed cruel and disgusting treatment at the hands of people who she and her family entrusted with her daily care. As local news reported at the time, the video showed one of the nursing home staffers cramming latex gloves into the victim’s mouth. As also reported, the video showed that aid and another “tapping [the victim] on the back of the head, taunting her, jerking her out of her wheelchair, then shoving her head to apparently get her to lay down.” The worker also pushed the victim in her chest. These awful acts amounted to both physical and verbal abuse, featuring choking and physical restraint. To make matters worse, the patient suffered from dementia, and could not recall the aids’ behavior and treatment of her.
This case reminds us of the vulnerability of nursing home and long-term care facility patients, particularly the elderly, to abuse and neglect by staffers. Old age and physical infirmity magnify that vulnerability. Mental inhibitions from dementia, psychosis of Alzheimer’s also create a tremendous vulnerability not just because of exposure to abuse or neglect, but an inability to comprehend or even remember what is happening, or a difficulty conveying what occurs to others so that something can be done to stop it and punish the offenders. In this case, the victim was unable to report the abuse because she could not remember it.
The secret video from inside the resident’s room also presents another consideration. Some states legally permit the use of video surveillance in a patient’s room if the patient or their family authorizes it and provides the equipment, and other states, including Illinois, are debating legislation to make it legal. Illinois in fact is in the process of considering such a bill right now. While there are privacy issues to consider, such surveillance video has proven valuable in showing abuse and neglect, and aiding authorities in investigations into nursing home staff conduct. Without the video in this particular case in Oklahoma, the family may never have figured out the problem.
While the victim has since passed away, the jury verdict, if upheld, provides at least some sort of justice, though never complete solace, for the family. Nursing homes that foment a culture of abuse and neglect must pay for those actions or inactions just as the individual perpetrators must be punished if guilty. No victim or their family members should endure such abuse or the pain of watching that abuse occur, and the offending parties should be held accountable in court.
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