Nursing Home Horror Stories: Why Speaking Out Is Important

Six years ago, Eryetha Mayberry’s three daughters suspected someone at her Oklahoma nursing home was stealing from her, so they installed hidden cameras in her room.

The resulting video showed two employees forcing the 96-year-old patient with dementia to lie down by pushing her head and preventing her from breathing. One employee shoved latex gloves into the victim’s mouth while the other watched. A few months after the video was released, Mayberry passed away.

Needless to say, the daughters filed a lawsuit against the nursing home. They were recently awarded a $1.2 million verdict, though the facility plans to appeal.

Five years ago, Bobby Glenn Tweed was admitted to a nursing home at the age of 78 because of dementia. Without his family’s consent, he was given psychotropic drugs known to be fatal among older patients with dementia. He died 10 months later.

His family settled a wrongful death lawsuit against the nursing home and others responsible for Tweed’s care.

In 2016, a male nurse’s aide in Minnesota sexually assaulted Jean Krause, a 78-year-old nursing home patient with dementia. Afterward, she was clearly suffering but her family didn’t know why. Nearly a year after she died, her family found out about her assault because of an investigation. The facility surrendered licenses for three of its properties and the aide pled guilty to one count of fourth-degree criminal sexual conduct in a negotiated deal. His sentence was a year in jail and 10 years’ probation.

These are only three examples of nursing home abuse, but despite state and federal regulations, nursing home horror stories abound. According to an August 2017 alert from the Office of the Inspector General in the Department of Health and Human Services, only one in four cases of possible sexual and physical abuse of nursing home patients are being reported to the police. Of cases that go unreported, about four out of five involve alleged or suspected rape or sexual abuse.

According to CNN, there’s no comprehensive, national data on how many cases of sexual abuse have been reported in facilities housing the elderly. Add to this the fact that many victims don’t report their assaults and the scale of the issue becomes clearer.

The issue is exacerbated by cursory investigations, lack of enforcement, and light punishments. Long-term care facilities tend to be understaffed, with underpaid workers. Indeed, attracting and retaining quality workers is an industry-wide problem.

What to do when families must rely on this very staff to report abuse? Even if staffing is an issue, there’s no excuse to treat people this way – much less people who are elderly, disabled, or defenseless. It’s up to witnesses and employees to preserve evidence and speak out, particularly nurses and nursing home staff.

The good news is people are doing just that. In 2013, Annie O’Malley-Donegan, a Cleveland, Ohio nurse, saw a 90-year-old woman allegedly left alone in her room where she cried and screamed for help. Unable to use the restroom, when aides ignored her cries for help, she attempted dangerous maneuvers in order to do so. O’Malley-Donegan told the press, “The bed was in the high position. Four rails up. This woman crawled out of bed. She could have killed herself.” The victim’s niece was never told about the incident until this nurse reached out to her.

After O’Malley-Donegan reported the abuse, the nursing home staff was re-trained and one of the aides was disciplined, but O’Malley-Donegan was fired. She’s currently suing the nursing home under the Ohio whistleblower law.

As in O’Malley-Donegan’s case, the federal government and many states offer whistleblower protection to people who report abuse or suspected abuse. Nurses are also considered mandated reporters for the elderly and other vulnerable populations, so if they witness or suspect abuse, they’re required to report it.

Being on the look out for abuse is more important than ever with at least 1.4 million people in the U.S. living in nursing homes. This number is expected to grow as life expectancy increases. In fact, the number of Americans over 65 is expected to more than double between 2010 and 2050. But residents aren’t always elderly; the population is much more diverse due to the focus on rehab and recovery.

The Inspector General’s alert says that the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) – which regulate nursing homes – have to do more to keep track of this abuse, like comparing nursing home records with ones from the emergency room. A more comprehensive report is expected this summer.

Another thing about nursing home abuse is that it doesn’t discriminate. It happens everywhere and regardless of who the owners are, from corporations to nonprofits. It happens even in highly rated facilities.

If you’re aware of any nursing home abuse, please contact us at 1-888-321-1510.