The story of an Arizona woman who gave birth to a baby boy despite being in the midst of a more than decade-long vegetative state made headlines around the world and shocked all who heard the story – not just about how such a thing was physically possible, but how such a deplored act could occur in a facility where the woman was supposed to be cared for. It shows how even in places where we hope our loved ones will remain safe, predators may still be roaming the halls looking for an easy victim.
Elder abuse and other vulnerable victims
While the Arizona story rightfully grabbed headlines due to its bizarre and sickening details, the unfortunate fact of the matter is that similar acts of abuse actually happen relatively frequently throughout the nursing homes and palliative care centers across our country. All such crimes have a similar backdrop – facilities with little oversight, vulnerable clients and potentially dangerous caregivers who feel emboldened by those first two factors.
The National Council on Aging estimates that as many as 1 out of every 10 senior citizens is abused in some way – whether it is physical, mental, sexual abuse or abuse in the form of being manipulated through targeted schemes to take their money. The Arizona case showed a clear example of a caregiver taking advantage of a helpless individual for their own sexual satisfaction, and such horrible activities unfortunately do happen each year in care facilities around the country.
Despite the estimation that nearly five million senior citizens are victimized each year, only 1 out of every 14 victims is likely to report. This could be because they are unable to report the crime due to dementia or memory loss causing them to forget the abuse happened, or perhaps they are scared of speaking up for fear of being ignored and facing retribution from their abuser.
However, as this case clearly showed, the elderly are not the only ones at risk of being exploited. Those in a coma, those in vegetative state and even those who are simply incapacitated while staying in a hospital due to chronic conditions are all at risk of being abused by caregivers, many of whom might be the very people charged with taking care of them.
Any abuse of helpless victims is inexcusable
A perpetrator for the Arizona sexual abuse case has thankfully been captured through DNA evidence. It is not known at this time if the family of the victim will seek retribution against Hacienda Health Care, the facility where she was held for more than 10 years during her vegetative state, but it would certainly not be a case without merit.
Caregiving facilities have a dire responsibility to ensure the safety of their clients, especially those who do not have the ability to take care of themselves and rely on their caregivers. For a caregiver to not only ignore their responsibilities and oaths to provide care, but to actively take advantage of the vulnerable people they are charged with helping, is a sick violation of humanity that must be accounted for utilizing the full extent of the law. Continue reading