>Federal records show Minnesota has fallen short in its handling of complaints about abuse of elderly and vulnerable adults.
In the last year of her life, as her health faded at an Albert Lea, Minn., nursing home, Opal Sande became a target.
For months, the 89-year-old grandmother, blind and suffering from Alzheimer’s disease, was tormented by workers who abused her and 14 other residents. According to court documents and state records, workers pinched nipples, rubbed crotches and got in bed with some residents to simulate sex. They also spit in some residents’ mouths and covered their lips to prevent them from screaming.
Last month, a court-ordered arbitrator blamed the Good Samaritan home for failing to prevent what he called a “sordid, sad, shameful story” of abuse.
“I roll this over in my mind all the time,” said Sande’s daughter, Myrna Sorensen. “Why did I put her there? Why did they do that to her?”
The 2008 case is part of a broader problem across Minnesota, where 2,000 providers are entrusted to care for thousands of elderly and vulnerable adults.
In the past six years, according to records reviewed by the Star Tribune, state regulators have substantiated 273 cases of abuse and exploitation at nursing homes, assisted-living facilities and in-home care agencies.
In 381 other cases of suspected abuse and exploitation — including 96 reports of sexual abuse — the state was unable to prove that misconduct took place, even though regulators found some evidence of wrongdoing in almost two-thirds of those investigations, records show.
Federal officials have repeatedly faulted Minnesota for how it reviews complaints of abuse and neglect. Twice in the past four years, federal records show, state regulators did not properly investigate 40 percent of reported complaints.
“Something is broken,” said Deb Holtz, the state’s ombudsman for long-term care.
Holtz said there’s a “general sense of frustration” among advocates for the elderly that so many cases of reported abuse go unpunished.
In nursing homes and other care settings across the state, workers have harmed residents in a multitude of ways. They yelled at them and reduced them to tears with threats of punishment. Residents were slapped and punched, sometimes hard enough to cause bruising or bleeding. Workers stole checks, credit cards and jewelry. In at least 17 cases, victims were sexually abused.
State Health Department officials said they could have been more aggressive in some cases.
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Violated: ‘Broken” System Fails Elderly Abuse Victims