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OAKLAND, May 3 - Disability Rights California’s Investigations Unit has just released a 40 page report, “Victimized Twice: Abuse of Nursing Home Residents, No Criminal Accountability for Perpetrators.” The report examines the following:
These are just some of the 12 cases investigated by DRC involving nine men and seven women, age 41 to 97, with physical, mental and cognitive disabilities, who were physically and sexually abused by facility staff. The abuse ranged from punching or hitting in the face to repeated sexual assaults and allegations of rape. Some involved multiple victims and occurred over months, others were one-time incidents. “This is just the tip of the iceberg of hundreds of confirmed cases of nursing home resident abuse we see every year from Department of Public Health citation reports,” stated Leslie Morrison, one of the authors of the report. Experts estimate that for every case of abuse that is reported, as many five go unreported.
Investigators concluded that incidents, whose facts are indicative of a crime, were handled not as criminal matters but as licensing or employee concerns. In most cases, the only outcome was a minimal citation by the Department of Public Health and the assailant being dismissed from employment, still eligible for jobs at other care facilities.
Nearly half of the cases were never reported to law enforcement. The bulk went to long term care ombudsmen who, under federal law, cannot also report to law enforcement or prosecutors unless the victim gives consent. Few residents do. This means that reports of criminal abuse in California nursing homes vanish into a virtual black hole and never reach law enforcement or the criminal justice system.
Significant delays in reporting and lapses in investigations further thwart criminal prosecution. The Bureau of Medi-Cal Fraud and Elder Abuse (BMFEA), a division of the California Department of Justice, investigated all nine cases referred to them but did not prosecute any. Criminal charges were filed by local district attorneys in only three cases, two of which involved the same defendant who abused two different residents. In the end, in the cases prosecuted, felony charges were reduced to misdemeanor offenses, and sentences were minimal.
The investigations team made important recommendations to ensure that crimes against nursing home residents are promptly reported and investigated. Priorities include amending state law to require that all incidents of abuse and neglect are reported immediately to law enforcement; challenging the BMFEA to take a leadership role in focusing on nursing home resident abuse and criminal prosecution; developing a system for tracking abusive case staff; and holding nursing home administrators responsible when abuse is not reported as required.
A complete copy of the report (in English) can be located at http://www.disabilityrightsca.org/pubs/548801.pdf or by contacting Leslie Morrison, Director of the Investigations Unit at Leslie.Morrison@disabilityrightsca.org.