A California emergency room nurse has been arrested and charged with elder abuse and sexual assault against patients at his hospital in Orange County. The nurse faces accusations from three different women, ages 22 through 68. They report that he sexually assaulted them while waiting for emergency treatment at the Providence Mission Hospital.
Sexual assault is a crime on its own. Still, the nurse’s behavior is particularly heinous in the eyes of the law because of the age of the oldest victim. California law states that taking advantage of an older person is a crime above and beyond harming other adults. It’s considered elder abuse, and it’s grounds for a civil lawsuit.
This crime is considered similar to child abuse since they both involve taking advantage of people who may not be able to take care of themselves. Here’s what you need to know about this kind of abuse and how to spot if your loved ones are suffering from it.
What Is Elder Abuse?
Elder abuse is any intentional or negligent act by a caretaker or other person that either harms a vulnerable adult or puts them at risk of harm. Older adults frequently lose the independence and capability to defend themselves from abusive caretakers. That’s why they’re considered “vulnerable” according to state law. In California, any adult over 65 is regarded as an “elder” and potentially a vulnerable adult.
In general, exploitation of older adults takes three forms. The first is a caretaker who is negligent and not caring for their charge appropriately. The second is a person in the elder’s life who takes advantage of their vulnerable state physically or mentally. Finally, the third is an opportunistic person who abuses an older person they don’t know, like the California nurse. All three of these situations lead to the same outcome: an older person who should be receiving respectful care is instead suffering during their golden years.
Who’s at Risk for Elder Abuse?
Elder abuse is more widespread than you’d think. It’s not just disabled or homebound older people who can face it. Any adult over 65 can face it. Still, some groups are more vulnerable than others.
For example, people with dementia or Alzheimer’s can have a harder time speaking up about abuse. Since their memory is affected, abusers can take advantage of them without their victims understanding what’s happening. Similarly, homebound or bedbound adults may not have a way to reach out to others, leaving them without a way to get help.
Even adults who can still communicate with others can struggle, though. Abuse can leave people feeling ashamed, especially older people who feel like they should take care of themselves. If something seems wrong with an older person in your life, don’t rule out abuse just because they still seem independent.
Where Does Elder Abuse Happen?
Elder abuse can happen anywhere that an older adult spends time. Still, some places are more likely to leave adults open to abuse. For example, it’s all too common in situations like nursing homes and in-home care. Anywhere that older adults receive part- or full-time living assistance is a location where they’re vulnerable to negligence or active abuse.
When someone relies on other people for help and care simply to stay alive, they become highly vulnerable. That’s precisely why care facilities and caregivers are so commonly abusive. Some people are drawn to work in fields where they will have access to a pool of potential victims who can’t defend themselves. Older adults who rely on their caregivers or facilities for help are more likely than other groups to fear what will happen if they try to take action.
That’s also why the California nurse was able to target people in the ER. No one is more vulnerable than someone who needs emergency medical care. The way he opportunistically took advantage of an older person in pain demonstrates how some abusers will take any chance to harm someone.
How to Identify Elder Abuse
If you’re concerned about an older family member in your life, you should learn the signs of abusive behavior. After all, you may not be able to ask the person directly. If your relative has developed memory problems or lost the ability to talk, then they can’t speak up for themselves. On the other hand, even people without memory loss may not tell you anything if they’re embarrassed about the event or don’t realize they’re being manipulated.
Exploitation comes in many forms. Adults who face one kind of abuse are more likely to face others, though. It’s worthwhile to look for all types of exploitation. Common signs include:
- Unexplained injuries such as bruises or burns
- Changes in appearance to look dehydrated, underfed, dirty, or otherwise uncared-for
- Preventable conditions like bedsores
- New isolation from friends and family, like ignoring calls and visitors when they didn’t previously
- New negative mood changes like depression, confusion, or anger
- New spending habits or banking patterns, like opening accounts with other people or buying expensive presents for caretakers or people you don’t know
None of these signs is a guarantee that your loved one is facing abuse, but they are a good reason to investigate. Try to spend more time with them and track how they’re being treated. Are they receiving their medications and meals on time? Are they receiving the care they need? Do their caretakers seem to mind you spending time with them? Once you’re looking for the signs, you can cut off potential abusers before they impact your loved one’s final days.
If you think that someone you love is being abused in their twilight years, they need you to stand up for them. Everyone deserves to remain comfortable, happy, and healthy after retiring. If your loved one can’t take care of themselves, then you’re their best chance for ending any exploitation or neglect they face.
That’s why you should reach out to an experienced elder abuse attorney. The right legal team can help you figure out your options and potentially fight the abuser in court. Don’t let your family member suffer any longer: get in touch today to discuss your situation.