Governor Terry Branstad of Iowa has asked the Iowa Legislature to pass a bill requiring nursing homes to notify residents when a registered sex offender moves into the facility. Courts often order individuals into nursing home care after a plea or conviction, and some of those individuals must also go on the sex offender registry under the same order. Iowa officials estimate that fifty to fifty-five registered sex offenders currently reside in nursing homes in the state. Discussion of nursing home abuse and neglect often focuses on the action, or inaction, of nursing home staff, but residents may also face the risk of abuse from fellow residents.
The governor’s proposal arose from an incident last year at a nursing home in Pomeroy. An 83 year-old male convicted sex offender suffering from dementia who suffered from dementia assaulted a 95 year-old female resident. After the man was released from a facility designated for sex offenders, a judge had ordered him to be placed in the nursing home.
Shortly after the incident in Pomeroy, the governor convened a group to review laws relating to sex offenders in long-term care facilities. The proposed legislation is based on their recommendations. The governor announced the bill during his weekly radio address on January 9. In addition to notification of other residents or their representatives, nursing homes would have to create a written safety plan for use when a sex offender resides in the facility. He suggested that facilities might choose to designate an area to focus on sex offender residents, comparing the idea to wings designated for Alzheimer’s patients and other conditions.
The bill creates a delicate question about how to balance the right of nursing home residents to a safe living environment with the right of convicted sex offenders to also get an appropriate level of care. Nursing home residents are among the most vulnerable of people, and the notion that they might face abuse by a fellow resident with a possible history of abuse seems to shock the conscience. Once convicted sex offenders have served their punishments, however, they ostensibly have the same rights to nursing care as anyone else. Governor Branstad acknowledged the need to balance the interests of resident and public safety with the right to receive care, particularly when a person has been committed to care via a court order.
Even in the absence of further legislation, nursing home administrators and staff have a duty to protect their residents from known dangers. If a convicted sex offender with a history of violent acts resides at a facility, and these facts are known to the staff, they arguably have a duty to take steps to protect other residents, staff, and the public from whatever risk that person might reasonably pose. Again, they must take care to balance the rights of the other residents with that individual’s rights, in that they cannot significantly impair that one resident’s care in the interest of all other residents.
The Maryland nursing home lawyers at Lebowitz and Mzhen help obtain compensation for people injured due to abuse by nursing home staff or residents. Contact us today online or at (800) 654-1949 for a free and confidential consultation.
More Blog Posts:
Residents’ Rights under the Nursing Home Reform Act of 1987, Maryland Nursing Home Lawyer Blog, November 30, 2010
Sexual Abuse in Kentucky Nursing Homes, Maryland Nursing Home Lawyer Blog, July 31, 2010
Sweep in Nursing Home Finds Felons and Sex Offenders with Outstanding Warrants, Maryland Nursing Home Lawyer Blog, December 28, 2009
Photo credit: Weezie’s Birthday Ballooning by rich115, on Flickr.