Seniors at Risk: Sex Offenders, Parolees Living at Nursing Homes

Hundreds of thousands of senior citizens are at risk because they are living among registered sex offenders, parolees and residents with violent histories, according to a nursing home watchdog who studied residents at nursing homes, assisted living homes and long term care facilities.

"What is shocking is we have now found 1,600 registered sex offenders across the country [in facilities with seniors]," said Wes Bledsoe, who is set to testify tomorrow at a Congressional hearing on predators in these facilities. Bledsoe tracked the number of offenders living at these homes over the past four years by matching addresses from sex offender registries with a database of care facilities from Medicare.

Bledsoe said that in many of these cases the offenders are young adults who are often placed in the facilities because of disabilities or behavioral problems.

"We found teenagers, two nineteen year olds living in these facilities, many in their twenties, thirties, and forties," Bledsoe said.

"We have also documented over 60 rapes, murders, and assaults committed by criminal offenders in these facilities," he said.

Pennsylvania Attorney Sean McDonough will appear at the hearing to speak about Lillian Guernsey, who was 86 years-old in 2002 when she was raped by another resident at a Pennsylvania facility. The assailant, a 31 year old fellow resident, had eight prior adult arrests, three convictions and two adult commitments to correctional facilities before he arrived at the home, according to McDonough's statement. Her assailant is now in prison, convicted of rape and sexual assault.

And six years to the day after her elderly mother was raped in a Florida nursing home, Sandra Banning will also testify.

Banning said she had no choice but to place her mother Virginia Thurston in a nursing home after Thurston, who suffered from dementia, was repeatedly found wandering the streets alone in the middle of the night.

"Growing up, Momma always said, 'If you place me in a nursing home, I'd never forgive you'," said Banning. "But that's what we had to do for her safety."

Banning, 60, said she had no idea that the facility she placed her mother in was also the home of a violent offender with a history of arrests. She found out after nursing home staff called her July 23, 2002 to tell her the offender had raped Thurston, then 77, in her bed.

"They found him right in the act," said Banning. "This man was 83 years-old and in a wheelchair. Not someone you'd think would be a rapist."

But Banning says it was only after the rape occurred that she found out the man had been arrested 58 times and that a court ordered him to move from a homeless shelter into the assisted-living facility.

Banning said she'll never forget the "look of terror" in her mother's eyes when she had to explain to her that she had been raped or the moment when she had to hold her mother's hand inside a sexual assault response center when she was examined.

"I think that at that point reality was there and she knew what was going on," Banning said of her mother, who didn't recall the rape because of her dementia. "The tears were streaming out of her eyes."

Banning says that despite physical evidence of sexual assault, the man was found incompetent to stand trial and has since been relocated to another Florida nursing home. She won a civil suit against the nursing home in the amount of $750,000 last year, which has not yet been paid out.

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