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Nursing Home Abuse Allegation Makes RN Fear for His Career


A nursing home abuse allegation has one of our nurse readers extremely concerned.

The nurse was accused by a nursing home resident of sexual abuse, which allegedly took place when the nurse went into the resident's room to check his blood sugar and administer insulin. The nurse on the previous shift -- also a male -- had failed to do so. After the resident accused him, the nurse was suspended and administration began an investigation. He was also told he would be reported to the state board of nursing. The nurse in this unfortunate position denies the allegations but is very concerned about how this false accusation will affect him -- and he has good reason to be concerned.

Nursing home abuse has heavy repercussions

Sexual abuse is defined as nonconsensual sexual contact of any type. Research and statistics indicate 83% of victims of sexual abuse reside in a care facility, such as a nursing home, according to 2018 research by the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys. Moreover, a 2014 literature review of sexual abuse of older residents in nursing homes revealed both female and male residents are victims of sexual abuse in care facilities. Perpetrators are usually staff and other residents, and are mainly men, according to a 2015 report by Norwegian researchers. Any nurse in this situation has many legal obstacles to overcome. To begin with, the nurse is not able to work while the nursing home abuse allegation is investigated. This investigation conducted by the nursing home is crucial to what follows for the nurse.

If the allegation is found to be untrue, he would most likely be reinstated to his position and other legal concerns would be eliminated. If the investigation finds that the accusation is true, or likely to be true, his job is forever lost. In addition, nursing management will report him to the state board of nursing.

A third legal concern for the nurse is a criminal charge if the accusation is found to be true. Depending on the circumstances of the abuse, the nurse could be charged with sexual battery or aggravated sexual assault, as examples. There also is a possibility the family of the abused resident might sue the nurse civilly, alleging neglect of or injury to the patient because of the nurse's failure to maintain the standard of care with the patient. Last, but by no means least, is the potential for a professional licensure action against the nurse by the state board.

Get an attorney -- quickly

Any nurse in this situation would not be able to defend himself or herself against a nursing home abuse allegation alone. Retaining a nurse attorney or an attorney who represents employees in such cases is of the upmost importance. The attorney can be helpful in ensuring the nursing home abuse investigation is done according to the nursing home's policies and is fair and unbiased. Its findings should be provided in writing, and the investigation should be done as quickly as possible.

If the nursing home policies allow, the nurse attorney or attorney would most probably advise the nurse to file a grievance because of his firing. This would allow the nurse's denial and supporting substantiation to become a matter of record and also allow for some access to the home's investigation.

How active the attorney would be in the grievance depends on the home's policies. Some grievance procedures allow for an active role, such as being present and representing the nurse during the stages of the grievance, while others do not. If the latter is the case, the attorney can provide input to the nurse during each phase of the grievance. In either role, the attorney's main objective is to help the nurse truthfully defend against the assertions of nursing home abuse.

Attorney's checklist

In this instance, the nurse reader stated he had a clear record and clear background check and is well-known and respected at the home. Because nursing homes are required to do background checks on all employees, the attorney would want to know if the home complied with its obligations. A breach in the background check protocol could mean a potential perpetrator could have been hired and no one was aware of his past. Whether background checks were or were not done as required, there is the possibility the resident was assaulted by another male employee or male certified nursing assistant and the resident confused that person with this nurse. The attorney also will want to know:

  • Who else was in the resident's room that evening and who else was on duty that evening?
  • Were any witnesses present during the alleged assault (e.g., roommate, other staff)?
  • Was the resident interviewed about the alleged assault and what did he state?
  • Was the resident able to identify his assailant?

The accused nurse's documentation about checking the patient and administering the insulin also is essential.

  • Was there an entry in the patient record?
  • If so, was it by the accused nurse?
  • What time was recorded in the nursing note?
  • Was there other documentation in another resident record that the accused nurse was in another resident's room at the same time, thus shedding doubt on him being the perpetrator?

It is important to note that the resident's accusations cannot, and should not, be ignored. It's the nursing home's duty to conduct an investigation and fulfill its obligations to residents when such an allegation is made. However, being falsely accused of sexual assault by a patient or resident is a serious charge with long-lasting legal and ethical ramifications. For a nurse in such a situation, legal counsel is necessary to clear your name and your reputation. Moreover, a successful outcome at the investigative level eliminates further legal proceedings that must be defended against.

Take these courses related to care of the elderly and nursing home residents:

Elder Abuse: Mistreatment of Older Americans on the Rise (1 contact hr) In 2015, 15% of the U.S. population was over the age of 65. It is projected by 2060 the population of older Americans will have doubled. Research data estimates 1 in 10 older American adults have experienced at least one form of elder abuse. Nurses and other healthcare providers are well-placed to detect situations of potential abuse and to connect the patient and family with community resources. Update: Stopping Abuse and Neglect in Nursing Homes (1.5 contact hrs) By 2060, 98 million Americans will be age 65 or older. The future increase in the aging population suggests that more elderly and disabled people will stay in a nursing home at some point in their lives, making it even more important for nursing homes to be safe places for residents. Within a two-year period (1999-2000), Congressional investigators found that one in three U.S. nursing homes was cited for an abuse violation, and abuse in 256 nursing homes across the country was so serious that it put elderly lives in jeopardy or resulted in death. Factors contributing to abuse and ways to identify, respond to, and prevent abuse are discussed. For Nurses New to Home Care (1 contact hr) More than 60% of RNs are employed in acute care settings. The need for home care nurses will continue to grow as the U.S. population ages and the number of chronic conditions that the elderly must manage increases, which will help them stay out of acute care facilities and reduce re hospitalization. This continuing education activity will provide nurses with an overview of the homecare nurse practice and introduce them to another career option. This activity will help acute care nurses understand how a referral to home care can benefit patients who qualify for home healthcare services.