Expert speaks at 50 Plus EXPO about elder abuse
By Luke Baynes
Lillian Jeter prefaced her seminar at the 18th annual 50-Plus & Baby Boomers EXPO with a warning.
“Unfortunately, we’re going to talk about a very horrific topic,” she warned, before adding, “but I’m going to try to pave the way for some of you, and hopefully all of you, as to what factors to look for if you’re placing your loved one in a nursing home.”
A former lieutenant with the Charleston (S.C.) Police Department, Jeter was director of the Melbourne, Australia-based Elder Abuse Prevention Association from September 2001 to May 2011.
The horror alluded to in Jeter’s introduction to the Jan. 26 seminar was a case of sexual abuse in an Australian nursing home, perpetrated by a male staff member on several elderly females. A high-profile appearance on the Australian Broadcasting Corporation’s Lateline program by Jeter and the family of one of the victims led to the passage of mandatory reporting laws in Australia for incidents of serious physical assault and criminal sexual assault.
“If someone feels that comfortable in doing those types of incidents, can you imagine the green light that occurs when you’re just doing the basic neglects?” Jeter asked the audience at the Diamond Ballroom of the Sheraton Burlington Hotel & Conference Center.
Jeter followed that rhetorical question with a more concrete query: Why would a nursing home cover up elder abuse, be it as serious as sexual assault or simple as negligence through understaffing?
The audience responses boiled down to two distinct yet not inseparable reasons: money and reputation.
“In order to protect their reputation, they cover it up and they allow it to continue because (the elderly) are old and vulnerable and dependent and they’re going to die anyway and they cannot tell anybody, so it’s their word against everybody else’s word, even other employees,” Jeter said. “How horrific, how absolutely horrific that is.”
All of which raised the more pertinent question, and ultimate focus of Jeter’s talk, how does one choose the right nursing home for a loved one?
Jeter’s recommendations can be summarized as follows:
- Make sure the facility is licensed.
- Talk to the facility administrator and director of nursing. Make sure they’re “on the same sheet of music” in terms of resident care philosophy.
- Visit the nursing home. (“I cannot believe the people that go and put their loved ones into facilities without actually going through and touring and doing their homework.”)
- Beware of outwardly ornate appearances. (“When you walk in the front door and see something that looks like the Sheraton, to me that’s a warning sign. That is a marketing scheme.”)
- Can a resident be visited at any time? Can he or she leave the premises to visit family at any time? A “no” answer to either question is a red flag.
- Ensure that a loved one’s personal physician is required to be contacted whenever a change in medication is made by facility staff.
- Talk to other families.
Jeter put particular emphasis on the last bullet point, citing her own experience when she placed her father in a nursing home.
“Those families that had their own loved ones there, we all looked after each other. I looked after theirs, as well as they looked after my daddy when I wasn’t there,” she said. “It was like a big family.”
In closing, Jeter suggested that apart from safety concerns, a long-term care facility should be chosen based on its recognition that old age should be viewed as a stage of life to be treasured, rather than as a layover en route to the graveyard.
“One of the worst fears of those who are older is going to a nursing home. They see it as the last stop to death,” she said. “It should not be that way. It just means they have long-term care needs that need to be taken care of in a facility that has long-term care.”
ABUSE IN VERMONT
Dr. Susan Wehry, commissioner of the Vermont Department of Disabilities, Aging and Independent Living, told the Williston Observer that the department investigates approximately 1,000 cases of abuse, neglect and/or exploitation annually. The Adult Protective Services division has published a guide to recognizing abuse, neglect and exploitation of vulnerable adults, which includes a list of warning signs including:
Possible indications of physical abuse
- unexplained bruises, burns, cuts, fractures, dislocations
- conflicting stories about injuries
- changes in physical or mental health (fear, withdrawal, anxiety)
- frequent changes in health care professionals
- forced isolation
- signs of being restrained, such as rope marks on wrists
Possible indications of sexual abuse
- full or partial disclosure, or hints, of sexual abuse
- pain, itching or bruising in genital areas, thighs and upper arms
- torn, stained or bloodied underclothing or bedding
- sexually transmitted diseases, unusual urinary tract or vaginal infections
- changes in sexual behavior/attitude, inappropriate sexualized behaviors
- emotional changes
- changes in personal hygiene—wetting, soiling, reluctance to undress, new obsession with washing themselves
Possible indications of emotional abuse
- changes in behavior/demeanor when a certain person is present
- prevention of access to friends, family, telephone, social groups
- changes in mental health—withdrawn, depressed, low self-esteem, anxious
- changes in sleep patterns or appetite
- unexplained fear or defensiveness
The complete guide can be found at http://www.dlp.vermont.gov/raising-awareness-handbook/view