3 workers fired for elder abuse

Published 9:40 am Thursday, September 3, 2009

VIRGINIA — Three former nursing aides at an assisted living facility on Minnesota’s Iron Range pinched, slapped and threw rubber balls at a resident with Alzheimer’s disease and told another resident to “shut up” while calling him names, according to a state report.

The Office of Health Facility Complaints, a division of the Minnesota Department of Health, on Tuesday released details of the alleged abuse at Edgewood Vista Virginia. It’s the latest in a string of abuse cases involving Minnesota nursing homes over the last year.

A health department official said Wednesday that such abuse doesn’t appear to be on the rise, but there has been a heightened awareness among providers and an increased effort to remind workers that they are required to support suspicious behavior.

Email newsletter signup

“Most of the providers in the state of Minnesota just do an excellent job and they are very interested, and their mission is to provide wonderful care to vulnerable adults,” said Stella French, director of the Office of Health Facility Complaints.

The three employees have been fired, French said. They were not named in the report, which covered allegations dating back to last fall. The findings will appear on the nursing aides’ background checks and French said they will be disqualified from working in similar jobs. They have a right to appeal the findings.

A message seeking comment from Edgewood Vista Virginia was not immediately returned Wednesday. The report said the Virginia facility bore some responsibility for the alleged abuse because of a lack of internal reporting of suspected maltreatment. The facility has taken corrective action, the report said.

State investigators made an unannounced visit to Edgewood Vista in April and found evidence that four residents had been verbally, physically or emotionally abused.

In one case, a witness told investigators, the three employees antagonized a woman with Alzheimer’s disease by pinching her on the side of her breast, slapping her buttocks and bouncing a rubber ball off her buttocks. When the resident was teased she “got ‘meaner’ and more depressed” and would not come out of her room, the report said.

Two of the employees also hit the resident with plastic foam “water noodles,” and they placed their cold hands on her neck to startle her when they came inside from the cold, the report said.

The employees also are accused of slapping one male resident in the mouth and telling another to “shut up.” Another female resident was told she was “crazy” and was badgered until she yelled to be left alone, the report said.

Investigators were unable to contact one employee by phone or subpoena. A second denied the allegations and denied witnessing the incidents but admitted to taking a picture of one of the residents and posting it on the Internet. The employee said she removed the picture when she was told it wasn’t allowed. The third employee told investigators about some of the alleged abuse but said she didn’t report it and that she went through a 30-day evaluation for using bad judgment. All three have since been fired.

The report is the latest case of nursing home abuse to gain public attention in Minnesota.

In August 2008, a state report showed that 15 residents with Alzheimer’s disease or other dementia disorders were abused at the Evangelical Lutheran Good Samaritan Society in Albert Lea. Investigators said that earlier that year, nursing assistants spit in residents’ mouths, poked their breasts, touched their genitals and caused other physical, verbal and sexual humiliation for “something fun to do at work.” Two young women face multiple criminal charges in Freeborn County, and four people were charged as juveniles for not reporting the behavior.

In April 2009, a former nursing home aide pleaded guilty to three counts of disorderly conduct against vulnerable adults at Luther Haven Nursing Home in Montevideo from late 2006 to mid-2008. Among other things, the complaint alleged that the woman sexually humiliated one man, laughed and screamed at residents and hurt one resident by poking into a cancerous wound.

French said the Albert Lea case was shocking and since then, there’s been a heightened awareness about abuse and reporting it to authorities.

She said the Department of Health conducts training programs and has held video conferences on the abuse of vulnerable adults. In addition, she said, whenever her office investigates a complaint, it takes a broad approach and looks for systemic problems that may need fixing. Follow-up visits ensure problems are fixed, she said.