Senior's rape throws light on problems in assisted-living homes

  • Article by: CHRIS SERRES , Star Tribune
  • Updated: March 27, 2014 - 1:33 PM

Frail seniors sometimes victims in the lightly regulated industry.

At the Edgewood Vista senior home in Hermantown, Minn., elderly residents were stunned, even incredulous, over the recent revelation that an 89-year-old fellow resident was drugged and raped in her bed last year by a young caregiver.

But the rape, which prompted widespread outrage and calls for a state investigation, is among a series of incidents to occur at homes operated by Edgewood Management Group, a North Dakota company that has been cited more than 50 times over the last four years for cases of abuse or neglect.

The incident also opens a window onto broader issues of maltreatment at assisted-living homes — a fast-growing and lightly regulated industry that now serves thousands of frail older Americans.

At Edgewood Vista, a review of hundreds of pages of inspection records suggests that maltreatment and neglect have been persistent issues. A Star Tribune analysis found a history of incidents from the seven states where Edgewood operates:

Three aides at an Edgewood Vista senior home in Virginia, Minn., slapped, pinched and taunted residents over a period of months. One dressed an elderly man up in a clown wig for a social event while others threw balls at residents.

Residents at Edgewood homes in South Dakota and Minnesota wandered away unnoticed; one was found two blocks away in cold weather without a coat, while another was discovered outside on the pavement in a pool of blood.

• Staff at an Edgewood home in Cheyenne, Wyo., failed to conduct required health assessments of six residents despite “significant declines” in their physical and mental abilities. One resident was not reassessed even after she hit another resident with a knife.

Yet Edgewood, which is based in Grand Forks, N.D., and has 50 assisted-living communities in the Midwest, was not sanctioned or fined for these and dozens of other violations.

The lack of sanctions is emblematic of assisted-living homes, a sector of senior care that has escaped much of the regulatory scrutiny directed toward traditional nursing homes.

Assisted living operates in a regulatory gray zone between senior housing and nursing care. Hundreds of facilities across the country are governed by a patchwork of state rules that vary widely and have failed to keep pace with the increasingly acute diseases of the aging people they serve, say elderly care advocates.

“This is a systemic problem,” said Dr. Robert Kane, chairman of long-term care and aging at the University of Minnesota’s School of Public Health. “The more we have these national [assisted-living] companies, the more we need to hold them accountable … and not just treat these as isolated incidents.”

‘Devastating’

Each day, they come to share stories about their families or play cribbage over coffee. But in recent weeks, the elderly women who gather in the spacious lobby of the Edgewood Vista home in Hermantown have found themselves revisiting a chilling incident.

Drugged and raped at 89

On Jan. 18, 2013, an 89-year-old resident was drugged and raped in her bed by a 30-year-old caregiver. A nurse examiner later said the vaginal tear from the rape was the worst she’d seen in her six years in the field.

It was all the more stunning that the rape occurred at Edgewood, a company that prides itself on creating a social atmosphere in its homes, complete with live music, ballroom dances and private theaters.

In an interview, Edgewood Executive Vice President Russ Kubik said the company takes pains to train its staff and provide top-notch care. Kubik used the word “devastating” four times to describe the Hermantown rape and called it the worst incident in his 27 years in the senior care industry.

“A sexual assault like that is a nightmare,” Kubik said, fighting tears as he spoke. “It’s just a very ugly thing, and I can only hope and pray that I never see it again.”

  • related content

  • Feb. 28: Lawmakers demand investigation into rape at senior home

    Friday February 28, 2014

    Lawmakers want Health Department to explain response to attack on 89-year-old woman. Policy changes may be sought, they said.

  • March 6: Rape has Hermantown senior home residents on edge

    Thursday March 6, 2014

    Residents demanding to know more about assault say home canceled meeting.

  • Carol Johnson, a resident of a care home in Hermantown, Minn., said she was threatened with eviction after sharing news about a rape.

  • Jean Hill of Virginia, Minn., said she was shocked to learn in 2009 that staff at the assisted-living home had dressed her husband, Phillip, in a clown wig and then posted the demeaning photos on Facebook.

  • Russ Kubik, an officer of Edgewood Management Group, cited concerns over resident panic and patient privacy after staff allegedly suppressed information on a rape at one of its Minnesota facilities.

  • assisted care

    Assisted-living homes serve more than 400,000 elderly Americans in about 2,500 facilities.

    Unlike nursing homes, they are lightly regulated.

    Care lapses are leading Minnesota legislators and advocates to push for protections, including more inspections and more fines for violations.

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