Sex abuse in hospitals, nursing homes affects patients of all ages

Posted at 11:43 AM, Nov 11, 2019

NEW YORK — Mary Dean, 61, had been in a Poughkeepsie-area hospital for a month recovering from two heart surgeries when she grabbed her daughter’s arm on Sunday, Jan. 6, to stop her from leaving the hospital room.

“She started shaking her head, ‘No,’” Latasha Cummings recalled to PIX11. “She was trying to ‘lip’ something to me, but I didn’t understand what she was saying.”

Mary had a tracheal tube in her throat, and she needed a breathing machine.

The next morning, Dean’s sister, Sheniquah, said Mary grabbed her arm when she tried to leave the same hospital room.

“This was the first time I saw her cry,” Sheniquah said, referring to her sister’s medical problems.

Mary’s daughter was summoned, and the two women asked Mary to write on a piece of paper.

“She just kept writing, 'EKG, EKG,'” her daughter recalled.

Then, Mary wrote something that referred to the male anatomy and made a gesture with her hands.

“I asked, ‘Was somebody messing with you?’” Sheniquah remembered.

The family told PIX11 Mary was able to communicate that a man in a burgundy uniform had abused her. The patient’s daughter and sister notified nursing supervisors and the Poughkeepsie Police.

“It was the EKG Department” that wore burgundy uniforms, Latasha Cummings said.

“One of the nurses in the room at the time, she said that my mom was incoherent, that my mom was hallucinating, and this was not true,” Cummings noted.

The incident illustrates a troubling concern for patients and families involved with medical facilities: Staff who may take advantage sexually of the weak and most vulnerable, regardless of age.

On Dec. 29 in Phoenix, Arizona, staff at Hacienda Health Care were stunned during a 911 phone call to see a 29-year-old patient who was severely disabled - intellectually and physically - giving birth to a baby boy in her nursing home bed.

“Baby’s turning blue! Baby’s turning blue!” a female staff member cried.

“One of the patients had a baby! We had no idea she was pregnant!”

The woman who gave birth had required 24-hour nursing care since the age of 3.

After investigators demanded DNA samples from male staff at the facility, Nathan Sutherland, a 36-year-old nurse, was arrested and charged with sexual assault and abuse of a vulnerable patient.

“I’ve wondered if nursing home care draws that particular type of predator,” said Dominique Penson, a partner at the law firm Barasch McGarry Salzman & Penson.

“I think it’s pervasive,” Penson said of alleged abuse in nursing homes and other medical facilities.

“I don’t think there’s any question it’s pervasive.”

There were several cases in 2018 of medical staff accused of patient abuse in nursing homes and hospitals, and a 2017 CNN report found the federal government had cited more than 1,000 nursing homes for failing to prevent sex abuse at their facilities or mishandling the reports.

“Unfortunately, it could be a physician, it could be some sort of health care professional, it could be maintenance,” forensic psychologist Dr. NG Berrill said of the staff who have access to patients.

Psychologist Dr. Patrick Suraci said this kind of sexual activity is like a fetish that stops just short of necrophilia, sex with dead people.

“In this case, what these men are doing, it’s a minor form (of necrophilia) because they will have sex with a living body, but also one that cannot respond. So, they have complete control over this body.”

“And this is exciting to them,” Berrill said.

“It’s sort of an issue of power and it probably fulfills some sort of morbid fantasy.”

The attorney, Dominique Penson, believes many of these abuses happen on overnight shifts and early morning hours.

In New York City, Dr. David Newman, once an emergency room doctor at Mount Sinai Hospital, pleaded guilty to sexually abusing four female patients.

One of the women said he immobilized her with the anesthetic Propofol and ejaculated on her chest.

She was able to preserve DNA evidence.

Newman pleaded guilty and was sentenced to two years in state prison.

We asked Penson if he had advice for families worried about the patient care of loved ones.

Penson said a facility is supposed to report its health care ratings.

“It has to report whether there have been complaints, whether there have been fines,” Penson said.

“Look for a facility with a good rating and more staff,” Penson said.

“The more staff there is, the less likely there is to be abuse. Ask about supervision. Ask about oversight. And, 'What kind of background checks do you do on the people you hire?'”

Penson said it’s also important to check out the upkeep of a facility.

“Any level of neglect probably means there is neglect on every level.”

As for Mary, the heart patient who said she was abused, her family was told the EKG employee was removed from patient care pending the outcome of an investigation.

Sadly, Mary did not live to find out the results of the probe. She died two weeks after tearfully telling her daughter and sister that she’d been victimized.

This story was originally published by WPIX.