Nursing home residents are among the most vulnerable in our society. Many are unable to speak. They often rely on walkers and wheelchairs to get around. In some cases, their memory fails them. Their loved ones trust nursing homes to provide basic care and comfort.
Instead, as a recent CNN report details, a startling number of patients suffer sexual abuse in nursing homes, with many instances going unreported or not properly investigated.
Although the report indicates it may be impossible to truly know how many victims of nursing home sexual abuse exist, its analysis of federal and state data, as well as numerous interviews with regulators, experts, families and victims, suggest it's far more pervasive than many of us previously considered.
In many cases, nursing homes fail to do act accordingly to prevent or stop abuse, even once it comes to light. Some instances highlighted by CNN reveal a failure at nearly every stage, from a reticence to investigate and report allegations due to a reluctance to believe victims, to a failure to red flag patterns of abuse and repeated allegations against a single individual. In some cases, there was a clear effort by nursing homes to conceal allegations.
Most states fail to keep track of how frequently investigations into mistreatment at nursing homes involve sexual abuse, with many failing to categorize it separately. Even the federal government doesn't track all sexual abuse allegations, but there is at least some information.
Approximately 16,000 complaints of nursing home abuse since 2000 have been reported to the Administration for Community Living. However, that figure only involves cases where the state's long-term care ombudsman got involved in the complaint resolution.
CNN looked to the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services for answers, but found it classifies sexual abuse allegations into the same category as all other kinds of abuse, including financial or physical. The news organization made a specific request of CMS to conduct a special search of those abuse reports using keywords that might denote sexual abuse. That search, further fine-tuned by CNN reporters, revealed that between 2010 and 2015, substantiated sexual abuse allegations resulted in more than 225 nursing homes being cited for not protecting residents. Of those instances, more than half were resolved with federal fines, which totaled $9 million. However, very few were cut from Medicare and Medicaid funding. Further, these numbers don't include cases of abuse reported in assisted living facilities, only long-term nursing homes.
Additionally, our Alabama nursing home abuse attorneys understand these figures don't show the citations nursing homes racked up when they were cited for mishandling nursing home abuse investigations in other ways, such as inadequate investigations or intentional concealment.
So CNN conducted another analysis of the data, and found more than 1,000 cases wherein nursing homes were cited for failure to prevent sexual assaults at facilities between 2010 and 2015. Approximately 100 facilities were cited more than once. What's more, this figure doesn't include cases where complaints were filed or allegations were made, but it did not result in a citation. Because we know that so many sexual assaults in general go unreported, we know these figures likely represent a small number of actual cases of sexual abuse at nursing homes.