A majority of reported sexual abuse cases at Oregon long-term care facilities are resulting in no arrests or prosecutions, according to a pair of disturbing stories in the Sunday Oregonian.
The newspaper’s investigation also found the state often fails to properly investigate incidents of alleged abuse by not interviewing witnesses or not testing key evidence.
Problems permeate every level of the care safety net, from employees at the facilities who aren’t doing enough to protect residents, to investigators with the Department of Human Services (DHS), who aren’t conducting thorough reviews after an incident is reported.
Investigating accusations of sexual abuse at long-term care facilities is fraught with challenges. Many residents are mentally ill or heavily medicated and are unable to communicate clearly the details of the alleged attack.
Moreover, the nature of care often places the caregivers and residents in private, intimate settings. Without specific details, it is very difficult to know when and how contact between caregiver and resident becomes inappropriate.
Those challenges should not excuse the fact that in many cases of alleged abuse authorities aren’t called to investigate or when they are contacted it’s several weeks after the incident is reported. In other cases potential evidence, such as a resident’s clothing which might contain the DNA of an attacker, is discounted or ignored.
The extent of the problem is hard to measure. The Oregonian had difficulty receiving all the requested reports of abuse, despite working in cooperation with DHS Director Bruce Goldberg. It took reporter Aimee Green seven months to compile material for the article.
Therein lies yet another failure of the long-term care safety net: shoddy record keeping.
But even with better record keeping, it is believed that most sexual attacks in nursing homes go unreported. Oregon law requires long-term care facilities to report any suspicion of sexual abuse.
However, workers tend to stay quiet unless evidence is concrete or overwhelming. The Oregonian reports that a majority of sexual abuse reports actually come from independent visitors, such as family members, who detect something is wrong.
The Oregonian also found the state isn’t conducting thorough background checks on caregivers, and is even failing to inform care facilities when someone suspected of inappropriate sexual behavior at another facility begins working there.
See Oregon’s safety net for vulnerable elderly in long-term care riddled with holes, which includes information on what Oregon is now doing to address the problem.