Elder Sexual Abuse in Nursing Homes: A Lawyers Perspective

Elder Sexual Abuse in Nursing Homes: A Lawyers Perspective

Sexual abuse in nursing homes is a serious issue plaguing extended care facilities in California and across the country. When you make the difficult decision to move your elderly relative into a nursing home because they require a level of care that you cannot provide, you are putting your trust in the facility’s staff to appropriately and adequately provide said care. Receiving a call informing you that your loved one has suffered sexual abuse at the hands of the nursing home’s staff is not only an unimaginable pain, it’s a clear breach of the aforementioned trust.

Elder neglect encompasses various forms of abuse, including sexual, physical, emotional, and financial – all of which your loved one can be exposed to when living in a nursing home. When neglect is present in any of these forms, it shows that there has been a failure somewhere along the chain of command in caring for the facility’s residents.

Sexual abuse in nursing homes is a nationwide problem, but it is particularly pervasive here in California. Learning how to spot the signs of elder sexual abuse in your elderly loved one’s nursing home can help ensure he or she is protected at all times.

What Are Examples of Nursing Home Sexual Abuse?

Nursing home sexual abuse can take many different forms, including the following:

  • Rape
  • Sexual battery or assault
  • Sodomy
  • Unwanted groping and touching of any area of the body (not just the private parts)
  • Sexual harassment
  • Photographs taken of the resident that are of a sexual nature

Who is the Most At-Risk to Suffer Sexual Abuse in a Nursing Home?

The majority of nursing home sexual abuse victims are physically unable to defend themselves or are too scared to report the abuse. The types of nursing home residents most at-risk for sexual abuse include:

  • Older residents
  • Women
  • Residents who are isolated from their family, friends, and other members of the staff
  • Residents who have Alzheimer’s disease, dementia, and other mental illnesses
  • Residents who have disabilities (including those that make it challenging to communicate)
  • Residents who suffer neglect by the staff or their family members

Who Commits Nursing Home Sexual Abuse?

Nursing home residents who suffer sexual abuse often struggle with communication, confusion, and fear of retaliation if they report the abuse. Nursing home residents can suffer sexual abuse at the hands of other residents, staff members, third parties, and even family members.

  • Other Residents: It’s common for sexual abuse between residents in assisted living facilities to occur. Other residents commit sexual abuse of fellow residents for two main reasons: the abuser suffers from mental confusion, or the abuser takes advantage of a weaker resident who is unable to communicate. The nursing home staff should receive training to look for this type of abuse, and if they don’t identify and stop abuse from occurring, the nursing home can be held liable.
  • Nursing Home Staff: The largest group of nursing home sexual abuse perpetrators is reportedly the nursing home staff. Working in a nursing home is a low-paying job. Accordingly, it often attracts people who may take the job simply to prey on the weak residents living in the facility. Some employees genuinely care for the residents, alerting the management to any indiscretions they see. But employees have ample opportunity to sexually abuse residents when they help them bathe, get dressed, or use the bathroom. The nursing home can be held liable for sexual abuse if a failure to properly screen employees before hiring them or stop abuse when alerted to it occurred.
  • Third Parties: Nursing homes utilize vendors, contractors, salespeople, and medical providers from outside of the facility. When a resident has been left unprotected and open to abuse, the facility can be held liable for the actions of the third party.
  • Family Members: In some cases, the spouse or relative of a nursing home resident can also commit sexual abuse in an assisted living facility during a visit.

What are the Signs of Nursing Home Sexual Abuse?

Victims of elder sexual abuse in nursing homes are often too scared to report the abuse. For this reason, family members must be cognizant of what signs to look for when visiting their loved one in a nursing home.

Symptoms of elder sexual abuse and neglect may include the following:

  • Bleeding in the area of the vagina
  • Development of unexplained STDs
  • Showing signs of fear when certain staff members enter a resident’s room
  • Bruises present on the breasts, thighs, or genital area
  • Challenges with walking and sitting
  • Having unexplained mood swings
  • Becoming withdrawn or depressed
  • Wearing torn clothing that has unexplained stains or blood on them

Essential Facts About Nursing Home Sexual Abuse

Despite sexual abuse being a serious issue, it is not the most common type of abuse nursing home residents face. The World Health Organization (WHO) released a study in 2017 confirming:

  • 0.7% of nursing home staff reported sexually abusing nursing home residents
  • 1.9% of nursing home residents, or their loved ones/guardians, reported sexual abuse
  • Sexual abuse was the least reported type of abuse in nursing homes out of all the other types

The Administration for Community Living (ACL) reports that there have been more than 20,000 complaints of sexual abuse in nursing homes in the past 20 years. That figure could be a significant underestimate, however, as these reports do not include possible sexual abuse committed by other residents.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), one out of every five women has been raped or experienced an attempted rape in their lifetime. In men, that number jumps to one out of every 38. Residents with a mental illness, such as Alzheimer’s, are more likely to suffer sexual abuse than residents without a mental illness. The CDC reports that as of 2016, an estimated 47.8% of nursing home residents had Alzheimer’s.

How Can I Protect My Loved One From Nursing Home Sexual Abuse?

Ensuring your loved one is safe from sexual abuse (or any type of nursing home abuse) can be challenging. Since you cannot be there with your loved one around the clock, you are forced to rely on the staff to treat him or her with the respect and care they deserve. However, this does not happen, leaving you with added stress and worry.
Taking the following steps can help protect your loved one from nursing home sexual abuse, according to the National Center on Elder Abuse (NCEA):

  • Filing a report with a local law enforcement agency
  • If you witness the sexual abuse firsthand, call 911 immediately
  • Call the local long-term care ombudsman
  • Call the state’s licensing and certification agency to report the facility
  • Report the abuse to the nursing home’s management team

Filing a Sexual Abuse Complaint Against a Nursing Home in California

Any person or organization can file a complaint towards a California nursing home on behalf of a resident. The complainant does not have to be a resident of California. Complaints are filed with and handled by the Licensing and Certification Division of the California Department of Public Health (DPH).

There are no prerequisites in place for filing a complaint, and one can be filed orally or in writing (although filing the complaint in writing is recommended so it may be tracked appropriately).

Information You Should Include in a Nursing Home Sexual Abuse Complaint

When you suspect sexual abuse of your loved one in a nursing home, you should keep a journal to record any evidence or information pertaining to incidents. Doing so will make it easier to recall the problems when speaking with an elder abuse attorney.

When you file a complaint with the DPH, you should include the following information:

  • Name and address of the facility
  • Your name, address, phone number, and relation to the resident
  • The name of the resident on whose behalf the complaint is made
  • The date(s) and time(s) of all known incidents
  • Specific complaints of sexual abuse or neglect
  • Names of witnesses (including other health care providers, such as hospital personnel or paramedics)
  • Names of any staff who are relevant to the complaint
  • Any records that may need to be reviewed

Are There Other Organizations to Notify of a Nursing Home Sexual Abuse Complaint?

Yes, there are multiple organizations in California that you should notify of a complaint, as they, in addition to the DPH, could open an investigation into the reported sexual abuse.

Send copies of the complaint filed with DPH to the following individuals/organizations:

What is a Nursing Home Sexual Abuse Investigation?

Once the complaint has been filed with the DPH, the agency must notify you of the inspector assigned to lead an investigation into the nursing home sexual abuse claims. Notification must come within two working days of DPH receiving the complaint. Speak with the investigator before they conduct an onsite visit to the nursing home, ensuring they are familiar with the circumstances of the complaint.

California law requires the DPH to begin an investigation on the facility’s site within 10 working days of receiving a complaint. If serious bodily harm or death is threatened, the investigation must begin within 24 hours of the DPH receiving a complaint.

All investigations beginning after July 1, 2018, must be completed within 60 days of the DPH receiving the complaint. California law permits an extension of up to 60 days so long as the DPH requests the extension in writing with the facility and the complainant.

The Rights of a Nursing Home Sexual Abuse Complainant

A complainant has the following rights in California:

  • You have the right to be safe from retaliation for filing a complaint
  • You have the right to accompany the investigator when they visit the facility
  • You have the right to remain anonymous throughout the process
  • You have the right to receive a response in writing after the investigation
  • You have the right to appeal the findings of the DPH investigation

Appealing the Findings of a DPH Nursing Home Sexual Abuse Investigation

If you are dissatisfied with the findings of the DPH investigation into your loved one’s nursing home sexual abuse, you have the right to file an appeal. The appeal is held at an informal conference, which must be requested in writing. Send the written request for appeal to the DPH district office manager within 30 days of receiving the written report.

The informal conference must be scheduled within 30 days of filing the appeal, and must include a meeting with the DPH district office manager. The nursing home administrator might be asked to attend. The DPH must notify you of its decision no more than 10 days following the informal conference. You have the right to have an attorney represent you at the informal conference.

If you are still unhappy with the findings of the DPH, you can file an additional appeal with the Deputy Director of the California Department of Public Health, Center for Healthcare Quality. However, you have just 15 days from receiving the informal conference findings to file this appeal. The Complainant Appeals Unit will conduct a review of all the results and issue a final ruling. You have the right to request an interview with the representative handling the review. This step represents the final appeal available to a complainant.

The Growing Elderly Population in California

The elderly population of California is steadily increasing. It is estimated that the elderly population will double by the year 2025 (up to 6.4 million people). This rate of growth is more significant than any other state in the U.S. Between 2010 and 2030, the California Department of Finance estimates that the 65 and older population – the one predominantly requiring long-term or nursing home facility care – will almost double.

How Can a California Nursing Home Sexual Abuse Attorney Help Your Loved One?

If you suspect that your loved one is suffering elder abuse in their nursing home facility, you need to speak with a compassionate and experienced nursing home sexual abuse lawyer as soon as possible. Elder abuse includes sexual, emotional, and financial exploitation.

The team at Berberian Ain LLP represents clients and their loved ones who have suffered sexual abuse in nursing homes throughout California. All of our consultations are free, discreet, and completely confidential. Call our office today at 818-808-0048 or complete our online contact form to schedule a consultation with an experienced and proven Berberian Ain LLP nursing home sexual abuse attorney. We’ll listen to the facts of your claim, launch a thorough investigation, and develop a winning legal strategy to help you recover the maximum financial compensation you deserve for your loved one.