Thursday, February 14, 2008
7 News Investigations: Predators on the Prowl
Chances are someone you know and love will end up needing care in a nursing home or assisted living facility. It is never an easy decision, and now, complicating the issue, the possibility a sex offender could be in the next bed. Investigative reporter Carmel Cafiero has this special assignment report, Predators on the Prowl.
WSVN -- Virginia Thurston was 77 years old and suffering from Alzheimer's disease when she was raped in a Jacksonville nursing home.
Ken Thurston: "Our mother was a three-to-five-year-old at the time she was raped."
Ivy Edwards was found on top of Virginia. He was charged with the attack but was found incompetent to stand trial and sent to a mental institution. He was 83 at the time and has an ugly criminal history. It includes sex offenses that go back 40 years.
Sandra Banning: "But they were too busy with their own personal agendas within that care center to take the time to do what they were paid to do, and that was to protect my mother."
At Miami's Munne Center, 33-year-old Darryl McGee was found naked in the room of a 71-year-old Alzheimer's patient, he also lived at the center. According to the police report, the patient complained of rectal and vaginal pains. Police say McGee, a man with a criminal past, admitted he had sex with the victim. He's been charged with sexual battery.
Brian Lee: "There was not very much supervision of the residents at that time, and it could have been prevented."
Carmel Cafiero: "While background checks are required for workers in nursing homes and other care facilities, there is no such requirement when it comes to who is staying there. As a result, the person down the hall or in the next bed could have a criminal history."
It's estimated there are about 700 sexual offenders living in nursing homes nationwide.
Wes Bledsoe: "When you put predators in with prey, somebody is going to get bit."
Wes Bledsoe campaigns for better protection of our elderly from criminals living under the radar.
Wes Bledsoe: "We have documented over 50 murders, rapes, sexual and physical assaults committed by criminal offenders while they were residing in these long-term care facilities."
And there's no way to know how many crimes go unreported because victims have dementia and don't remember or even realize they have been victimized.
Sandra Banning: "She was mortified, absolutely mortified."
Sandra Banning saw the damage first-hand as her mother was examined at the hospital after her rape.
Sandra Banning: "And watch the tears go down the sides of her face. That is something I will carry with me as long as I live."
Banning sued the nursing home and won. Now they are trying to get Florida law changed. Currently, workers must pass criminal background checks; they think residents should too.
Sandra Banning: "I think you need to know not only who the workers are but who their roommates are, who lives down the hall."
But the folks who operate long-term care facilities say that's easier said than done.
The Floridean in Miami has not had sexual offenders as patients. Kelley Rice-Schild is the fourth generation owner of the nursing home opened by her great grandmother.
She already pays the state to run required background checks on employees. She says they should not have to pay to run the same kind of checks on residents. Rice-Schild thinks the burden should be put on the offender or their family to disclose criminal backgrounds.
Kelley Rice-Schild: "They should make that known if they move into a nursing facility or assisted living facility or adult congregate living facility. We should also be protected."
Administrators can check the Florida Department of Law Enforcement Internet site for free. According to that website, sex offender Henry Fort is living at the Hillcrest Nursing and Rehabilitation Center in Hollywood. A spokesman said he has been here for eight years.
The FDLE website has Eugenio Alvarez, also a registered sex offender, living at the Fair Havens Facility in Miami Springs. A spokesman said it could not comment on any resident, but the registry only goes back to 1997, so many older violators do not appear.
Wes Bledsoe: "So what that means to us, is not only are residents unsafe but so are staff and even visitors."
Although there is disagreement on how best to determine a resident's history, there's no debate on the fact it is needed. Until that happens, experts say expect more Predators on the Prowl.