The Beaufort County South Carolina Sheriff’s Office has reported that a resident of a nursing home on Hilton Head Island was sexually assaulted by an employee of the nursing facility. The assault took place at Life Care Center of Hilton Head, located at 120 Lamotte Drive.
Beaufort County Investigators were called to Life Care Center of Hilton Head on the afternoon of Wednesday May 2, 2018, in reference to an assault that had taken place the previous night. According to the Sheriff’s report, a nurse said she went to a patient’s room around 1:15 p.m. Wednesday and found her “upset and crying.” When she asked what was wrong, the patient told the nurse that she had been sexually assaulted.
Beaufort County Sheriff’s Office spokesperson Capt. Bob Bromage said a suspect in the assault had been identified as a nursing home employee, and that person is now on suspension from his position at Life Care Center of Hilton Head. Because the investigation is ongoing, very few details have been released to the public about the assault that took place inside Life Care Center of Hilton Head.
Unfortunately, the assault in Hilton Head is not an isolated incident. Sexual assaults are a very serious problem in nursing homes across the United States. CNN has found that from 2013 through 2016, the federal government cited more than 1,000 nursing homes for mishandling or failing to prevent alleged cases of rape, sexual assault and sexual abuse at their facilities during this period. And nearly 100 of these facilities have been cited multiple times during the same period. Of the 1000 instances mentioned above, at least a quarter of these were allegedly perpetrated by aides, nurses and other staff members, while a small portion involved facility visitors (including family members) or unknown assailants. And while most citations dealt with cases of residents abusing other residents, accusations made about caregivers and other workers tended to be far more serious, involving allegations of forced intercourse, oral sex, digital penetration and other forms of sexual assault.
Julie Schoen, of the National Center on Elder Abuse, says that sexual abuse in nursing homes is a hidden crime. “The problem is that the population is vulnerable and often unable to communicate. That’s what makes it such a hidden crime.”
Further complicating the problem, many experts believe that meaningful changes needed in nursing homes to prevent this type of abuse are going to be difficult to implement. According to Schoden, care workers aren’t paid well, and there’s a huge turnover. As a result, many facilities are understaffed, so hiring precautions, including proper background checks, are often skipped. The types of precautions could prevent the hiring of workers with criminal backgrounds, especially those charged with sex-related offenses.
Another problem is the inadequate training of nursing home employees. Many nursing homes provide their workers with very little training or continuing education programs, often as a form of cost savings to strengthen the bottom line of the corporations that own and manage nursing homes. This lack of spending on training and education leads to nurses and staff that are not adequately prepared to serve residents skillfully and treat them with dignity and respect. This lack of training also results in these employees not being able to recognize signs of patient sexual abuse by other nursing home workers.
The National Consumer Voice for Quality Long-Term Care has provided guidance for professionals, caregivers and family members on ways to look for verbal and nonverbal cues that indicate sexual abuse has taken place inside a nursing home. The signs include:
- Long-term care residents who have become unusually withdrawn or angry.
- A resident who shows signs of urgently wanting to leave the facility, or who begins to react negatively to particular staff members.
- Physical signs, including frequency of urinary tract infections and evidence of sexually transmitted diseases. (Symptoms of STDs can range from sores to unusual vaginal discharge, but the issue is complicated because many women with these diseases don’t exhibit symptoms at all.) Bruising around the mouth, genitals or rectum is a more obvious indicator that can be observed during bathing or dressing.
Sexual predators inside nursing homes and, in many cases, their employers who enabled them, should be held accountable for the damages inflicted upon the victims. While we fully support the criminal prosecutions of these sexual abusers, criminal proceedings do not provide punishment to the corporate owners of nursing homes that are often culpable in these assaults. The only recourse the victims and their families have to recover compensation from these corporations for their egregious acts is by filing a civil lawsuit against all of the companies that own and manage these nursing homes.
Savannah attorney John Suthers was among the first lawyers in the United States to successfully sue and hold a nursing home accountable for abusing and neglecting a resident. The attorneys at Suthers & Harper continue to represent victims of nursing home abuse, including sexual assault and abuse cases. If you or a loved one has been the victim of sexual assault in a nursing home or an assisted living facility, contact us online or call toll-free at 800-320-2384 for a free consultation. For more information on nursing home abuse and neglect, please see our “Nursing Home Resource Center.”