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Breaux: Nursing home crimes underreported

Editor's Note: CNN Access is a regular feature on providing interviews with newsmakers from around the world.

(CNN) -- A Senate report released Monday accuses some nursing homes of allowing the abuse of elderly patients. The report says the abuses, ranging from beatings to sexual assault, often are not treated as serious crimes. Sen. John Breaux, D-Louisiana, chairman of the Senate Special Committee on Aging, spoke Monday with CNN anchor Leon Harris in advance of a hearing Monday afternoon on the issue.

Read the congressional GAO report on nursing home crime (FindLaw) (PDF)
Senate Special Committee on Aging 

HARRIS: Sen. Breaux, this is very troubling to hear this. You say what you've been hearing is these things are not considered to be serious crimes, or are not reported as such?

BREAUX: Leon, what we did was to ask the General Accounting Office, which [is] the investigative arm of the Congress, to do an 18-month study on nursing homes and look at the potential for sexual abuse or physical abuse, and what they found was very alarming and very disturbing, indicating that about 20 percent of the nursing homes in the country had instances of sexual abuse or physical abuse that were not reported to local law enforcement officials, as I think they should be.

HARRIS: And ... what did your report find about how they are treated once they are reported?

BREAUX: Well, in many cases, law enforcement officials really don't want to go into a nursing home. They'd rather the institution handle it by themselves. And what I have said time and time again, a crime is a crime no matter where it is committed. If a rape occurs on a street corner in an urban area, that is reported to law enforcement officials. If a rape occurs in a nursing home, it should be reported to law enforcement officials. For every crime, there is a criminal, and someone should prosecuted for those types of activities.

HARRIS: Some of the things we have heard ... over the years about things that happen [in] nursing homes [is that] they don't get reported because the ... operators don't want to report on themselves. Is that the type of thing you are trying to change here?

BREAUX: Yes, that is a problem. We had two instances that will be talked about this afternoon [in the committee hearing], where an elderly lady was thrown up against the wall, had her neck broken. It was not reported. [And] where another lady, partially paralyzed, was actually raped, and became impregnated in a nursing home and had the baby there. It was not reported. I think a lot of nursing homes would rather handle it internally. And I think police officials would rather let them do that. Well, that is not acceptable.

And the state of Arkansas, for example, says that everyone who dies in a nursing home, that report has to go to a coroner to take a look at it and see if it could potentially be the result of some kind of physical abuse, and whether law enforcement should be brought in.

HARRIS: It occurs to me that if the families of these people who were suffering these sorts of abuses, if they were loudly heard and were complaining on a regular basis across the country, [this would] have come to light a lot longer ago.

BREAUX: Well, the problem, Leon, is a lot of families don't know about it. I mean, many times individuals are in a nursing home, and their family members are not there. And as a result of that, the family members are not notified until after the fact, and then it's too late. We want nursing homes to be required to report physical abuse, not just to a social worker, but to law enforcement officials, to make sure that this does not happen again.

HARRIS: So who are you going to be interviewing today [in the hearing]? Are you going to be talking to law enforcement officials as well as nursing home operators?

BREAUX: Well, we have relatives of some of the victims to tell us what happened and how they found out about it. We have a sheriff from Louisiana ... who ... has a good program, where law enforcement officials actually work closely with nursing homes. Many of the nursing homes do a great job. But 20 percent is too many. One case is too many. And I think better reporting and better surveillance is what is needed and what is necessary.




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