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Consumer Voice Issues Statement on CNN Report on Sexual Abuse in Nursing Homes

February 23, 2017

We at the National Consumer Voice for Quality Long-Term Care (Consumer Voice) express outrage and horror in response to the findings of the CNN investigative report on sexual abuse in nursing homes, Sick, Dying and Raped in America’s Nursing Homes.

“We have been advocating for quality care for more than four decades, yet the findings of the CNN investigation are among the most shocking and frightening we have ever encountered," said Executive Director Lori Smetanka. "The sexual abuse of defenseless, vulnerable residents who can’t remove themselves from harm, often can’t communicate what has happened, and are frequently not believed even when they do, is reprehensible.”

The cases highlighted in the CNN report represent a complete breakdown at every level of the system designed to protect nursing home residents.  There are many contributing factors –including insufficient staff and training, inadequate background checks, failure to report allegations, inadequate investigations, and lack of prosecution.

The issue of sexual abuse is complex and change needs to occur at many different levels in order to address it. “But, we know that stronger nursing home regulations, more effective enforcement and increased staff in nursing homes are critical, and that we can’t begin to solve this problem without those three elements,” said Smetanka.  The federal government recently released revised rules that mandate better abuse protections, including reporting requirements. However, these rules could be rolled back by Congress under a rarely used federal law.  Consumer Voice advocated for these stronger nursing home protections and is fighting against repeal.  “Clearly, vast improvements are needed in the response to abuse, but the CNN investigation shows that greater protections are needed, not less.” said Smetanka.

In addition to more stringent rules and enforcement, there are steps that consumers can take to better protect themselves or their loved ones in nursing homes. Current and prospective residents and their families can educate themselves about warning signs and how to report suspected sexual abuse.  They can also contact the long-term care ombudsman program (www.ltcombudsman.org) if they have concerns. And they should immediately report any suspicions of abuse to the police and the state agencies that oversee nursing homes.  For more information and resources, go to www.theconsumervoice.org.

It is unacceptable that anyone should have to live in fear of sexual abuse at the hands of those paid to care for them. “There should be no facility in the country where such abuse takes place,” said Smetanka.  “We all, nursing homes, regulators, advocates, staff, and law enforcement need to commit to a zero tolerance policy and ensure swift action and accountability when such situations occur.”

Find resources on sexual abuse in nursing homes and many relevant resources on other types of elder abuse on the Consumer Voice issue page.

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