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Laws Still Not in Place to Protect Nursing Home Residents from Sexual Assaults

Jul 23, 2008 | Parker Waichman LLP

A 58-time sexual offender was placed in a Florida nursing home in 2002 at the order of a district court judge.  Ivy Edwards, 83, sexually assaulted a 77-year-old female resident suffering from dementia.  Exactly six years ago tonight, Edwards wheeled himself into the patient’s unlocked room, used his cane to block the door, and assaulted Virginia Thurston.  Staff making rounds found Thurston’s door locked.  They found Edwards in the patient’s bed.

Thurston’s daughter, Sandy Banning, was told nothing occurred; however, a social worker told Banning her mother had been sexually assaulted.  Edwards was arrested for the 59th time.  “She didn’t remember,” Banning said, “I had to take her to be examined and watch her cry.”  Meanwhile, Banning has been waiting six years for Florida lawmakers to protect vulnerable nursing home residents from sexual abuse by known predators.

Unbelievably, the Florida state Legislature considered legislation—only this past spring—to require criminal background checks of prospective nursing home residents, and to deny admission to those with a history of sexual offenses or other violent crimes.  This legislation is still not in place, which means predators, regardless of how nefarious their histories, are able to gain access to untold numbers of victims who are not in a position to protect themselves.  Florida Senator Durell Peaden Jr., Republican-Crestview, co-sponsored the Florida bill, which was passed by the Senate but failed in the House.  “The House will be put on notice to pass this,” Peaden said of next year’s session when he and co-sponsors will bring the Florida bill back next session.

Banning says she will push again for the bill next year and today is in Washington, D.C., testifying before the House Subcommittee on Investigations and Oversight.  “I’m mad. I’m mad because nothing has been done,” Banning said.  And Banning has every right to be angry.  No one in the nursing home knew of Edward’s history because his 58 known sexual crimes occurred before sexual predator registration laws were enacted.

Without mandatory background checks, there is no telling how many sexual predators are living in nursing homes, said Wes Bledsoe, whose grandmother died after being victimized in an Oklahoma nursing home in 2000 and who is founder of the non-profit organization A Perfect Cause, formed to crusade for frail elders in long-term care facilities from sexual offenders.  The group is pushing for state laws and federal legislation for required background checks and separate nursing homes for sexual offenders.  Bledsoe found that from 2002-2006, there were 60 murders and 1,600 registered sex offenders living in US nursing homes.  Figures do not include non-registered offenders at high risk—such as 59-time offender Edwards—parolees, and assaults occurring inside facilities.

Oklahoma just passed legislation requiring background checks and a separate nursing home for sex offenders and is planning—via a separate entity--to build and manage an offenders’ nursing home, Bledsoe said.  “My hope is Florida will follow Oklahoma’s lead and not just look at background checks but also separate and secure facilities,” he said.


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