According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the senior population of California alone will double by 2025 to an incredible 6.4 million individuals. That is a larger growth rate than any other state, but is California ready?
Sadly, there are increasing amounts of publicized stories about nursing home neglect, physical abuse, and sexual assault. Now, families, activists, and government officials throughout the state are scrambling to understand why.
An Epidemic of Nursing Home Abuse
It is impossible to know exactly how many victims there are in California. Yet, the most recent data, interviews, and independent reporting shows the number much higher than previously predicted. Additionally, it appears to be a systematic failure as nursing homes delay or neglect altogether to investigate and report allegations. Abuse that is reported is often against nursing home employees by victims or family members of victims who are physically, emotionally, and mentally vulnerable.
A recent CNN investigation detailed case after case of abuse, including the story of an 88-year-old California woman raped in her nursing home bed. She awoke one morning with her catheter removed and bed wet. She told police an unknown male nursing attendant stood over her. He allegedly said, “This is why I love my job.” Weeks later, doctors diagnosed her with incurable genital herpes after she complained of severe vaginal pain and weeping blisters. Her assailant remains unidentified.
At another California facility, three male certified nursing assistants ridiculed and repeatedly abused five male nursing home residents. As a group, they pinched the nipples and penis of one of their victims. They forced the senior victim to also eat his own feces. The CNAs forced another victim with cerebral palsy and mental retardation into cold showers where they beat him. They then forced the victim to walk naked in front of others. The CNAs photographed and even videoed the abuse. Other staff members witnessed many of these acts yet not one employee reported the abuse as required by law until much later. The CNAs eventually lost their certifications, but an independent investigation found that most involved never faced charges.
Protecting the Most Vulnerable
Preventing and detecting sexual abuse in nursing homes can be a challenge. Yet, most advocates, investigators, and medical experts agree there is more facilities can do to protect their vulnerable residents. Things like investigating every claim of sexual assault until it’s proven one way or the other and instituting greater supervision, better reporting of cases, and more training and education. This includes some sensitivity and attention education.
“Most abuse is undetected and never reported mainly because observable signs are missed or misinterpreted,” reports Tony Chicotel, staff attorney at California Advocates for Nursing Home Reform. “A little training could go a long way.”