Nursing Home Sexual Abuse Sparks Drive for New Laws

Earlier this month, Tennessee Law Blog reported on a nursing home sexual abuse case just across the Tennessee border in Hopkinsville, KY. There, a male attendant confessed to sexually abusing two nursing home residents, one who was mentally incoherent and the other physically handicapped; this was suspect not to be the only instances of sexual assault. (Click to read the original Tennessee Law Blog.)

Recently, I can’t mention nursing home abuse to other nursing home lawyers without having my fellow attorneys weighing in on resident-on-resident sexual abuse. Various state and federal proposals are now being considered that would isolate nursing home residents who are known sexual predators to separate care facilities.

Lawmakers in Florida are considering legislation similar to measures passed in Kansas that will require criminal background checks on nursing home applicants. One advocate for the change in nursing home admittance, Sandy Banning in Florida, has been working for this nursing home measure ever since her mother in Jacksonville nursing home was victim to sexual abuse. The assailant, who had been arrested 58 times during his 83 years of life, was a fellow nursing home resident. Banning’s mother had dementia and did not remember the sexual assault, but nursing home staff stumbled upon the sexual predator in the mother’s bed after the wheelchair-bound man managed to gain access to her room and use his cane to bar entry into the room where the sexual abuse took place.

Banning, quoted in one article, has stated, “I’m mad. I’m mad because nothing has been done.” Ms. Banning has every right to be mad and to get things done. What’s to be done, though, to improve nursing home conditions and to prevent abuse, including sexual abuse, is open to debate.

Proponents of the Kansas and Florida nursing home measures believe that separate facilities must exist for sexual predators. By isolating abusers, they believe nursing homes will be safe–or at least those nursing homes reserved for those who pass the background. Presumably for proponents, sexual attacks between sex offenders, even reformed sex offenders, or persons who at one time were was found guilty of a sexual crime, is fine. What these nursing home measures do not address, and what gets to the issue deeper than segregation, is the quality of care all nursing home residents deserve and should receive. As an interestingly aside, the very Florida bill Banning proposes would not have isolated her mother’s assailant to another nursing home to prevent his sex crime; the nursing home resident’s history of sex crimes had occurred before sexual predator registration laws were enacted and the Florida bill does not require current nursing home residents to have background checks. While these nursing home measures may help prevent sexual abuse and, if designed humanely for all nursing home residents (even the 1,600 registered sex offenders in U.S. nursing homes), these restrictions can be a step forward, what these laws fail to address is responsibility of the nursing home to provide adequate supervision and care to all its residents.

The worst part of nursing home abuse of a sexual nature is that they should never happen. Responsible staff know where residents are, know who their residents are and where they should be. This, and silence by the resident, is why instances of sexual abuse in Tennessee nursing homes go unreported.

Many residents who are victims can feel guilt about the act and a sense of powerlessness that keeps them from speaking up. Our law offices handle and are presently handling Tennessee nursing home abuse cases, including nursing home sexual assault. Too often negligent Tennessee nursing homes fail to perform sufficient background checks and training of their staff. Also regrettable, nursing homes do not always have measures in place, or the staff to put what’s on the books into practice, to prevent resident-on-resident sexual assault and abuse.

If you suspect your loved one of suffering nursing home neglect, or believe a Tennessee nursing home has permitted or tried covering up a sexual assault on a nursing home resident, give HHP a call at (615) 353-0930 or fill out attorney form to report the injury to a Tennessee nursing home attorney.

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