ATLANTA, Ga. (CBS46)- Sexual assault often goes unreported in assisted living facilities, Bulldog investigation finds

A CBS46 Bulldog investigation has found that seniors in nursing homes across Georgia and the nation, may be at risk in a way that family members and caregivers are often unaware of. 

One woman claims an elderly family member was raped in a Missouri nursing home.

"She couldn’t cry out; she couldn’t call for help," said the woman. "You go there for care."

An advocated for the elderly says, "We all go in with the thought that this is going to be a good experience. They're going to be safe."

But what happens when they're not?

We analyzed Medicare data and found at least six Georgia nursing homes all have reported cases of sexual abuse.

These homes failed to properly report those cases as well as take necessary steps to prevent the assaults. As a result, they were all fined by the Department of Health and Human Services.

When we zeroed in on three; we found some disturbing cases.

 According to the federal records we reviewed:

  •  Clinch Healthcare Center, Homerville GA: A resident with a habit of exposing himself to others. That same resident, found in bed with others, engaging in unwanted sexual activity
  • LaGrange Health and Rehab, LaGrange GA: A resident inappropriately touched others by reaching into their pants.
  • Chulio Hills Health and Rehab, Rome GA: A resident putting his hand up someone's dress. that same resident, groping another resident’s breast. That same resident also was reported for incidents of violence against others, including punching another resident.

We reached out to each one of those homes. All declined comment but one.

Chulio Hills said in a statement in part:

"Chulio hills health and rehabilitation is committed to providing our residents with a safe environment through our quality assurance performance improvement system which promotes effective quality improvement through extensive internal investigation and analysis of unusual occurrences."

We went to the state's long-term care residents' advocate, who said what we’ve seen is likely just the tip of the iceberg.

"I also think a lot of people just don't report, for the same reasons people don't report in the community," says Melanie McNeil. "Residents are fearful."

 She says it’s not just on the victims to report their own cases of abuse.

"Anybody in the facility who works there is a mandated reporter," McNeil adds.

She says there were 49 reported cases of physical or sexual abuse at nursing homes statewide in the last two years, but for the above reasons, the number of reported cases may not always be an accurate indicator.

"It’s a huge problem," says elder abuse attorney Will Smith. "The number one problem is that there needs to be more staff."

He says so many abuse cases not only go unreported, but they go unprosecuted.

"The staff will clean the resident, maybe wash their clothes and get them ready to take them to the hospital like they normally do, and that destroys evidence," Smith adds.

Not to mention, many of the folks involved, "You have a witness who doesn't have a good memory of what happened."

Now, to what else we found. Georgia requires employees at long-term care centers to undergo background checks, and sex offenders are required to disclose their personal information.

However there are no laws requiring residents be notified of an offender's residency.

We spent weeks cross checking names on the sex offender database with listed addresses and found dozens of registered sex offenders living in nursing homes in Georgia.

"These are very vulnerable members of society, its like when it happens to children, if it happens to the elderly, it’s sickening," says attorney Smith.

We took our investigation to lawmakers at the capitol, who pledge to take a closer look at supervision of offenders and elder care facilities in general.

Copyright 2019 WGCL-TV (Meredith Corporation). All rights reserved.

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