In discussing abuse and neglect at nursing homes and long-term care facilities, we often tend to focus on the general concepts of physical abuse, verbal abuse or emotional abuse. These are all unfortunately very common forms of abuse by facility staffers perpetrated upon its residents who seek only care and compassion as they struggle through ailments, injuries and generally physical and mental challenges. One area of abuse that can sometimes be overlooked is that of sexual abuse, which people may not realize does happen at nursing homes and facilities. Nurses, aides and other staff have practically unfettered access to patient residents at their facilities, and unfortunately take advantage of that access, and a patient’s vulnerabilities, to satisfy their own sickening needs.
Over the summer, there was a case in Brunswick, Maine in which it was discovered how an elderly man was sexually abused by staff at his nursing home back in 2006. The victim had dementia, and was legally blind and partially deaf as well. Dementia is not uncommon for those entering into the care of a nursing facility, and this combined with his loss of sight and difficulty hearing led him to be particularly vulnerable to the preying of others. At the age of 89 years old, as Portland, Maine media recounted, the man made attempts to tell his family how a staffer at the nursing home would sexually abuse him. It was at first thought to be simply mistaken words from a man who was simply confused and suffering from mental ailments. Yet months later, another employee caught the guilty staffer in the act of exploiting the victim for sexual favors.
This man, himself 70 years old, already had a rap sheet for three previous crimes, including assault and battery as well as lewd and lascivious behavior, and was eventually convicted of sexually abusing the victim in this case. In one positive note to this case, the family of the victim courageously and tirelessly worked with legislators and law enforcement to expand the definition of “sex offender” so that a person who sexually abuses another who is dependent on someone else’s care, such as the victim was in this case, the convicted abuser will have to register as a sex offender (previously the definition only encompassed a person who sexually abused a minor). This is one step in the direction of punishing and hopefully deterring would-be abusers.
Addressing the Abuse Problem
This sad case is one example of how sexual abuse unfortunately occurs at some nursing homes, and can go undetected for long periods of time, or indefinitely. As the guilty abusers take advantage of the vulnerabilities of patients, it is those same vulnerabilities that might sometimes make it difficult to understand them when they try to report the criminal and disgusting acts.
This case also presents a question of what nursing homes and long-term care facilities are doing in their hiring practices. The man convicted in this case was already convicted multiple times of similar behaviors that included violence and lewd acts, yet he was hired by this particular Maine nursing home. While it is unclear what happened regarding the facility itself, these facilities can often be considered negligent in hiring practices, and thus liable for the failure to vet or the failure to take into account the criminal histories of its employees. In hiring the staffer in this case, the nursing home put him in contact with vulnerable people on whom he could prey. It is important for facilities to have the right hiring practices, and for those looking into using nursing homes to be sure they have a quality record of care as well as upstanding and law-abiding staff.
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