Just in time for Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention Month in April, Nursing Home Abuse Center wants Texas readers to be aware of the reality of sexual assault in nursing homes. Of course, sexual assault is a difficult topic, but it is a topic that is impacting the lives of older Americans at heartbreaking rates.
Consider, for example, the following case information.
Stomach-Churning Reports of Sexual Assault
The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) slammed a North Richland Hills nursing home, Emerald Hills Rehabilitation and Healthcare Center, with hefty fines in response to findings that the facility failed to protect four residents from abuse. According to reports, a Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA) fled the country after allegations of committing sexual assault against multiple residents at that facility.
The CMS report from details the allegations originating in 2017 against a CNA who sexually assaulted several nursing home residents at Emerald Hills before fleeing the country. According to records, residents suffered the following:
- Forensic testing showed one resident had vaginal tearing.
- Another resident exhibited consistent fearful behavior around the CAN.
- A third resident needed psychological counseling after surviving the abuse.
- A nurse discovered evidence of prophylactic use under a resident’s bed, prompting a rape kit for that resident as well.
Emerald Hills has paid $1.25 million in federal fines over the last three years for these violations and others like them. Only two other assisted living facilities in the country have been fined more.
A Statewide Problem?
CMS evaluates 15,000 nursing homes and assisted living facilities across the country, and Texas leads the nation for the most financial penalties paid. CMS has penalized Texas nursing homes with over 200 fines – far more than any other state. These figures are particularly troubling considering the ignoble runner-up, California, actually has a higher total number of nursing home residents and yet almost 50 fewer fines.
CMS levies fines for actual harm to nursing home abuse residents but also for conditions which permit the possibility of harm to residents or staff. Not all of the fines levied are connected with sexual assault, and not all the fines levied represent measurable harm to a nursing home resident. Nonetheless, Texas can do better for our nursing home residents.
Texas has five nursing homes on CMS’s list of top 20 facilities with serious deficiencies that represent immediate harm to residents.
Why Does Sexual Assault Occur in Nursing Homes?
The motivations of any person who would sexually assault anyone, let alone the vulnerable elderly, are opaque. Studies of this horrifying phenomenon can only suggest reasons why a predator would target nursing home residents, including:
- Medical conditions like dementia, Alzheimer’s, or other cognitive deficiencies make it difficult for victims to report their abuse.
- Nursing home residents are physically dependent on their caregivers and are, therefore, easily coerced with threats of withholding medication, food, or other care.
- Nursing home residents are usually at a physical disadvantage to their attackers.
- Many victims are from a generation taught to be deeply ashamed of sexual assault will never report their experience.
- Nursing homes can have lax security, creating an opportunity for predators to access the vulnerable elderly.
- Nursing home residents can pose a danger to each other when administration and security measures fail to properly control a dangerous or predatory resident.
A report distributed by the National Criminal Justice Reference Service (NCJRS) studied nursing home abuse across the country in 2011 and found that nursing home residents experience sexual assault from both staff members and other residents.
The study looked at observed instances of unwelcome touching, unwelcome discussion of sexual matters, unwanted display of private parts, and unwanted penetration. The results indicated:
- 049% of residents experienced at least one of these types of sexual assault from a care worker.
- 6% of residents experienced these abuses from another resident.
Considering the study used self-reporting questionnaires, it seems likely that these numbers under-represent the true scope of how many nursing home residents experience sexual assault per year. Still, the figures reported show at least 1-2 nursing home residents per year suffer penetrative assault, and that is too many.
The proportion of CMS violations in Texas versus other states seems to indicate that nursing home abuse, including sexual assault, can happen here. The situation at Emerald Hills verifies that it is happening in Texas, and at rates higher than the national average.
Signs of Sexual Abuse
The signs of sexual abuse are heartbreaking to discover, but if you have a loved one in a nursing home you should be prepared to advocate on their behalf. Many victims of nursing home sexual assault – even those who have the mental capacity to report their experience – often will stay silent.
Knowing the signs of sexual assault could save your loved one from suffering a life lived in fear and shame. Some of the most common signs of sexual assault or abuse in a nursing home include:
- Blood in undergarments or on bed linens
- Ripped clothing
- Bruising on genitals
- Handprints or bruises on thighs, breasts, or buttocks
- Sudden pain while sitting
- Presence of a venereal disease
- Sudden presence of any contraceptive material in their room
- Sudden, otherwise unexplained sullenness or silence around a caregiver
- Depression, withdrawal, or frequent crying
Don’t wait to act if you recognize any of these signs of sexual assault. Report your findings to the nursing home, to the police, and then call a nursing home abuse attorney. Acting decisively at the first sign of danger will help your attorney to build a compelling claim, and will take precious steps toward protecting your loved one.
Don’t be afraid to cry wolf. Don’t be afraid to offend the staff. Don’t be afraid to embarrass your loved one. If you think he or she has been sexually assaulted, act immediately.
How a Nursing Home Attorney Can Help
Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention Month is a great opportunity to talk to your loved ones about sexual assault and how to get help. Sexual assault is a criminal matter that should result in criminal charges. Beyond the criminal element of these crimes, the nursing home also has an expectation of providing a safe environment for its residents.
Failing to provide a safe environment for residents makes a nursing home liable for claims of abuse, neglect, or sexual assault in civil court. When a loved one in experiences the unimaginable horror of sexual assault, a nursing home attorney can seek both criminal and civil means of justice for your family.
Money can’t repay the anguish your loved one has suffered – nothing can do that. But nursing homes and other assisted living facilities are liable for the suffering caused by their negligence, and they should be held responsible in every way possible.
If your loved one has experienced sexual assault, report it to the appropriate authorities, and then speak with a nursing home abuse attorney. At Nursing Home Abuse Center, we are based in Houston, TX, but we handle cases all over the U.S. Contact us online to schedule a free attorney consultation, or call us at 1-800-516-4783.