Sex abuse of nursing home dementia patients went unreported

CASHMERE, Wash. -- "Are you OK?" Lynda Freeman asked loudly.

She has to raise her voice when speaking with her sister. It's difficult because she can barely hear, speak or even move. The sister is a bed-bound patient at the Cashmere Convalescent Center in Cashmere.

And she is the victim of sexual abuse.

The KOMO 4 Investigators uncovered reports that detail nurses and staff witnessing a number of cases of a patient in the dementia ward sexually abusing other residents like Freeman's sister.

"You are responsible for this adult. People are paying and they expect you to take good care of their family," Freeman said.

She invited a KOMO camera to go inside her sister's room on the dementia ward to see her condition.

"She can't feed herself. She can't move her feet," Freeman said. KOMO 4 is not releasing her name or showing her face because of the sexual abuse that occurred earlier this year, according to reports put together by state and federal agencies.

The abuse started in mid-January between a man known as "Resident One" in the documents and Freeman's sister, called "Resident Three." Both were patients in the center's dementia ward.

The report said that a housekeeper saw Resident One standing over Freeman's sister with his jeans around his legs, holding onto her hand and forcing her to touch his genitals.

She wasn't able to call for help, fight back, or even move.

"It makes you sick, doesn't it?" Freeman asked when speaking about the revelations.

The report said the housekeeper "hollered at him to stop." The Director of Nursing was told, but no one outside Cashmere Convalescent Center knew that it happened. The Center did call Freeman, but only about her sister suddenly losing weight.

"I said, 'you call me and tell me that she's not eating, but you can't tell me why she's not eating?' " Freeman said.

This wasn't an isolated case either, according to the investigation report.

Cashmere staff witnessed Resident One pull another patient's hands to his groin, but that a nurse did nothing other than make "eye contact" with him to get him to stop.

He also tried to get into Freeman's sister's room two more times until she was finally able to get staffers to understand that Resident One was sexually abusing her.

The report says the Director of Nursing Services viewed what was going on as nothing more than consensual activities between dementia patients.

The man kept making advances, yet the director said, "there isn't anything we can do until he crosses the line."

Freeman was asked about how the abuse didn't cross the line.

"All they had to do was call the state," she said.

That eventually happened but only after more abuse, according to the reports.

On Feb. 2, a staff member saw Resident One take the key to the dining room and followed him there and found him fondling another dementia patient's breasts. Deputies with the Chelan County Sheriff's Office were called because Resident One was being unruly.

"He's getting more and more sexual with some of his exploits," a caller said.

In the end, they transported Resident One to the hospital for a medication adjustment --not the abuse. He is believed to be at Central Washington hospital in Wenatchee.

Convalescent Center operator Bill Dronan showed up during Freeman's tour for KOMO. Dronan declined a request for an interview, but Freeman's voice rose again.

"Your aides could have called when this first happened," Freeman said.

"Should have," Dronan replied.

Dronan did say that he was remorseful and that none of this should have ever happened.

Senator Barbara Bailey sees it another way.

"It's illegal. So we do need to do further investigation," she said. Bailey chairs the legislature's committee on aging and disability and was disturbed by the situation at Cashmere and how the abuse went under the radar.

"Mandatory reporting is extremely important. It is the law," Bailey said.

Prominent elder law attorney Mark Kosieradzki dismisses any talk of dementia patient consent. After reading the reports, he believes failing to report this was deliberate.

"The choice here was to cover it up, not report it and pretend it's not happening," he said.

Investigations into nursing homes are handled with both the state and the federal governments. The state licenses the facilities while the federal government awards and reimburses Medicaid or Medicare money to them.

Federal investigator Steven Chickering said that the department took the allegations seriously.

"That is something that's horrific," he said.

The joint report found the center violated mandatory reporting rules and that it "failed to recognize the behaviors as sexual abuse" and "did not act to protect" residents there.

"What you have is a culture over there that it's okay to abuse these people and that's just not right," Kosieradzki said.

Handing out punishments for those findings is up to the state and the Department of Social and Human Services. Options include suspending or firing staff members, fines, even shutting the place down.

Instead, DSHS ordered Cashmere to write proper policies for recognizing sexual conduct and consent, something that the law already requires.

The center promised to increase staff training and that Cashmere had to pay a $6,300 fine that is less than the rate to live one month in the Cashmere Convalescent Center, according to Freeman.

"They're pushing paper and it's just slapping the hand," Kosieradzki said.

"Maybe it's a not a crime to do it to a demented person because their mind is gone. That's how I feel the state is telling people. I don't believe that," Freeman said.

DSHS refused multiple requests to sit down and explain the punishment phase decision. Senator Bailey said that the case may need reviewing again.

"I just want her happy and safe," Freeman said.

For More Information:

Cashmere CC Investigation Report 1
Cashmere CC Investigation Report 2

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