One of the worst things that can be done to a person is to be taken advantage of – whether it’s financial, sexually, emotionally, or physically – when at their most vulnerable state. Most often, those who are cared for in nursing homes are suffering from debilitating mental illnesses like Alzheimer’s and Dementia which puts these patients in a heightened and vulnerable state. When you commit your loved one to live in an assisted living facility, it’s expected that the money you paid for the accommodation will come with experienced elder care, constant supervision, and a safe and comfortable living spaces. Sadly enough, abusive caretakers are not uncommon in facilities.
According to the CDC, there are over 16,000 nursing homes in the United States which house over 1.38 million elders needing living assistance. This large numbers of elders needing care require extensive assistance, but the ratio of nursing home aids to elderly residents is 30 to 1. This means that there are far too little nursing aids assisting those people in their assisted living care home. Out of the millions of elders requiring nursing home care, 44% of the residents in the United States reported that they were abused in some way by an aid. That is about 608,828 residents who have reportedly been abused by someone who is being paid by loved ones to care for them.
The highest reported type of abuse from patients is neglect – but what does that entail? Neglect can be a variety of different things that can range from failure to feed, bathe, administer medicinal prescriptions, or refusal to provide the services they are required to give to each patient. The signs of neglect can be easier things to spot like weight loss, change in hygiene, bedsores, dehydration, or visibly present dangers like a wet floor or poor lighting– but a more undercover change like a change in attitude might be harder to detect.
Andrew Merzwski and Luis Gomez
1000 nursing homes across the United States have been cited for mishandling sexual abuse from 2013-2016 spanning from inappropriate touching to violent rape allegations. Once an unheard-of crime, we are seeing more elder abuse cases uncovered in the news. One of these cases involved 28-year-old Andrew Merzwski who admitted to drugging an 89-year-old dementia patient before molesting her in a Minnesota nursing home. What’s worse is that he asserted that it was consensual sex induced by flirting from the victim- essentially victim blaming after his horrific assault. After a rape examination occurred, Merzwski was sentenced to 53 months in prison. Luckily the right thing was done in this case by locking this man away, but more often than not, perpetrators will have a report written up about them regarding a sexual assault case, but the department of health will write it off as “unsubstantiated.”
Another tragic abuse case was a 77-year-old woman housed at the Brian Center in North Carolina who was sexually assaulted by a nursing aide named Luis Gomez. After she worked up the courage to tell authorities about her assault, the police picked her up and took her to the psychiatric ward of the hospital and refused to believe her. After a nurse had alerted the facilities director of nursing, Gail Robertson, she was told that she would fix everything. Robertson did not alert the police, a doctor, or any family members of the abuse and the sexual assailant continued working at the nursing home. Luckily one nurse took it upon herself to call the police and have this abuse investigated. In turns out that Luis Gomez was accused of the same crime by multiple women. Gail Robertson knew of some of these crimes from different women and continued to keep the rapist on duty.
After a long investigation, it came out that Luis Gomez sexually assaulted multiple different women from three different facilities and the police were aware of at least three of these rapes. His charges were reported in a database, according to police, yet he was still permitted to work at nursing homes because it was ruled that these allegations could not be proven. While many refused to believe these elderly women were honest in their accusations, Luis Gomez continued to take advantage of each woman.
The presence of nursing homes give elders the option of living with assisted care of their day-to-day actions and allows their loved ones to remove themselves from the ‘primary caregiver’ position. 40% of people over the age of 65 will live in a nursing home, which is a large number to provide for. Sadly, 36% of nursing homes in the U.S. have violated elder abuse laws and beyond this, 91% of nursing homes do not provide proper staff members to care for the elderly residents. This 91% may not directly violate elder abuse code – which states under Alabama law that first degree elder abuse is when someone “intentionally abuses or neglects any elderly person and the abuse or neglect cases serious physical injury to the elderly person” – but ethically, the nurses did not uphold their responsibility to the elders they care for.
Are regulatory agencies holding nursing home and their reporting process accountable?
Issue: There are obviously many issues associated with nursing home abuse, but a few of the most important lie with the facility and their judgments. First, the process of background checking and allowing dangerous people to work in nursing homes is extremely faulty. For example, Joel Maldonado had allegations of sexual abuse, domestic violence, disorderly conduct, and resisting arrest – yet he was still able to land a job at an assisted living facility for the elderly. How did this clearly violent and tempered man get hired working as a caretaker for fragile elderly people?
Another factor to consider is pay grade – Could the issue be that caretakers aren’t making enough money? On average, caretakers make around $11-$12/hour, which equates to around $24,000 per year. If the background check does not seem to matter for caregivers, how hard it is to get a job like this? Overnight shifts are the most vulnerable time – are enough supervisors on duty at that time? There are many things to consider during the hiring process, and safety should always be first.
Additionally, when a sexual assault does occur, often they are not reported for fear of being cut off from government subsidies like Medicare and Medicaid. So, the issue not only gets worse because the facility does not fire the dangerous workers, but the helpless elderly people are being victimized and called crazy due to their illnesses. The elderly who are mentally ill are the most vulnerable and it seems that the perpetrators actively pursue those who will have a harder time recounting the traumatic experience.
When nursing homes get into trouble with the government, the government agency fines the facility which ultimately does nothing but slap the facility on the wrist as a penalty. These allegations should be taken seriously and further investigated to ensure elderly patients are safe in their environment instead of making the solution a simple payoff.
Solution: A potential solution to this issue would be to install a camera in each patient’s room to ensure there is no misconduct on behalf of the staff. If there is a caretaker who still carries out a sexual assault towards a patient, they can easily be identified, fired, and convicted of their crime. Often, perpetrators or nursing home supervisors who cover up sexual assaults will assert that the patient was hallucinating or misunderstanding a situation because of their old age or mental stage. By providing each patient’s room with a camera, the elderly patient will not need to worry about people not believing their story and perpetrators will no longer be able to take advantage of their patient’s incapacities.
As far as day-to-day solutions to ensure your loved one is properly taken care of in their nursing home facilities it is crucial to be on the lookout for four different types of elderly abuse: physical, psychological, sexual, and financial. With these four situations in mind, it is important to look for signs of unexplained injuries, a sudden change in behavior, depression, anxiety, or changes in their bank account or unexplained changes to the will. Inevitably, a lot of these traumatic situations can lead to feelings of shame or suicidal thoughts.
Nursing home abuse is not something that can be ignored – the ones who have taken care of us our whole lives are being put into the wrong hands without research or background knowledge of the staff members.
Author Bio: Alexa Martin is a freelance writer who has worked with multiple law firms to educate readers on a myriad of topics. As a recent communication studies graduate from Loyola Marymount University, she is now a search specialist who researches and writes about elder safety and trending topics.