As we noted in Part 1 of this series, institutional abuse is one of the three general categories of elder abuse and it is frighteningly common. Elders are harmed all the time from institutional abuse, some die as a result and no one pays much attention. Some examples:
A lawsuit has been filed this year by the son of an 89-year-old dementia patient, a resident in a California assisted-living home, after she died of heat stroke from being left unattended outdoors in searing heat. Her temperature had reached more that 103F before the son located her.
A report from the state Cabinet for Health and Family Services, titled “Elder Abuse in Kentucky,” determined:
”The number of cases [of abuse and neglect in long-term care facilities] investigated went up 2.1 percent from 2010 to 2011, but the number of substantiated cases went up 58.4 percent, according to a Herald-Leader analysis of Cabinet data.”
And last year, The Miami Herald kicked off an extraordinary, four-part investigative series about conditions in Florida assisted-living homes, titled “Neglected to Death,” with these examples:
”In Kendall, a 74-year-old woman was bound for more than six hours, the restraints pulled so tightly they ripped into her skin and killed her.
“In Hialeah, a 71-year-old man with mental illness died from burns after he was left in a bathtub filled with scalding water.
“In Clearwater, a 75-year-old Alzheimer’s patient was torn apart by an alligator after he wandered from his assisted-living facility for the fourth time.”
Less gruesome stories (only in the sense that they did not result in death) in The Miami Herald series and reports from many other parts of the U.S. reveal a hidden problem of huge proportions involving physical and emotional abuse of elders by people paid to be responsible for their well-being.
No one knows the number of victims of elder abuse in general, let alone those just in assisted living facilities. Hardly any research is undertaken, reporting from states is spotty, not even required in some states, and there is no government tracking system so statistics are mostly wild guesses.
According to a 2012 Tip Sheet [pdf] from the U.S. Administration on Aging, there is only this about the prevalence of elder abuse overall:
• In 2003, there were approximately, 381,430 reports of elder abuse, neglect and exploitation made to some Adult Protective Services programs. (The 2003 date of this statistic in a 2012 report tells you something about the amount of official attention paid to abuse of elders.)
• Some estimate that only one in 14 cases of elder abuse comes to the attention of authorities.
Apparently, under-reporting is about the only “official” fact of elder-abuse that anyone can be certain of. A thorough reform of long-term care is desperately needed but hardly anyone who can direct and accomplish such a goal is paying attention.
In addition, many assisted living and nursing homes are vastly understaffed while our elected officials in states throughout the country continue to slash funds for such facilities.
That’s why stories like that award-winning series in The Miami Herald are important in raising awareness, as is a stunning personal report by a resident from inside an assisted living home which I will tell you about tomorrow.
At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Lyn Burnstine: Cleaning