Identifying the Risk for Elder Sexual Abuse in Nursing Homes

Everybody will get old, which is why it is of paramount concern that there is a disturbing amount of elder sexual abuse in nursing homes. For many aging Americans, nursing homes are the practical option, especially when aging is accompanied by conditions that may require constant supervision. It is projected that by 2050, 6.6 million Americans will be nursing home residents. Every year, up to 2 million elder abuse cases is thought to occur, the most heinous of which is sexual abuse. Identifying the risk for elder sexual abuse in nursing homes will help prevent this from happening to someone you know.

Elder sexual abuse in the nursing home is the least reported of elder mistreatment. According to the website of Danville-based law firm Spiros Law, P.C., this is primarily because the victim is often unwilling or unable to report it, and when they do, they are often disbelieved or ignored unless serious injury or death occurs. In many cases, the staff is aware of these incidents but do not have the training or knowledge to properly handle the situation.

Elder sexual abuse is defined by the National Center on Elder Abuse as any sexual contact with any person which is unwanted, or to which the elder person is unable to consent to. It includes physical contact of any kind, enforced nudity, rape, sexual assault, sodomy and taking of sexually explicit photographs or videos.

Persons at risk for elder sexual abuse in nursing homes are of both sexes, although there are a smaller proportion of male victims. Nursing homes with a large resident population with dementia coupled with a low resident-to-staff ratio are more likely to have incidents of elder sexual abuse. Studies show that unmarried women aged 60 and older with no relatives in the immediate with functional and cognitive problems such as the inability to ambulate without assistance or confused about time and place are the most likely victims of sexual abuse from staff and other residents. The lower the mental capacity of the victim, the more invasive is the sexual abuse.

Nursing homes are facilities of care, and as such have a duty to protect the residents from harm. The failure to prevent foreseeable elder sexual abuse or to report it to the proper authorities may render the facility liable for personal injury claims as well as criminal charges. Consult with an experienced elder abuse lawyer if you suspect a relative or friend is a victim of nursing home abuse.

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Judge’s Ruling Sends Message to Negligent WV Nursing Home

A judge recently upheld a 2011 ruling that requires West Virginia nursing home chain HCR ManorCare to pay more than $90 million in a wrongful death suit. HCR ManorCare, which owns the Heartland of Charleston nursing home, was found responsible for negligent treatment of resident Dorothy Douglas, who died in 2009 from dehydration complications.

Several months after the 2011 jury verdict was reached in Douglas’s case, Heartland of Charleston was implicated in a second wrongful death suit. In the second case, staff failed to treat resident Christina L. Frazier’s infections, leading to her premature death.

In Douglas’s case, Judge Paul Zakaib Jr. upheld the jury’s original verdict, which called for $11.5 million in compensatory damages for Douglas’s family and $80 million in punitive damages. According to the website of a personal injury lawyer, punitive damages are fines leveled against the defendant to stop future negligent behavior. If you’ve been fined thousands of dollars for doing something you shouldn’t have done, you’re less likely to do it again in the future. If you are financially impacted by the fine, that is.

Lawyers for HCR ManorCare argued in May that West Virginia’s medical malpractice laws, which call for a cap on damages, should apply to the wrongful death suit and limit the settlement to no more than $500,000. However, Judge Zakaib Jr. ruled that the state’s Nursing Home Care Act does not require such a cap, and the $90 million settlement is legal. HCR ManorCare attorneys have already expressed their desire to appeal the case to West Virginia’s supreme court.

In his April decision, Judge Zakaib Jr. expressed his view that HCR ManorCare’s attempts to maximize profit were reckless and negligent.

“This verdict sends a clear ‘deterrence’ message to a multi-billion dollar nursing home corporation that its misconduct will not be tolerated,” Zakaib Jr. said.

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