'83 years old, unable to speak, unable to fight back.' Daughters share heartbreaking stories of abuse in nursing homes

One daughter asked, "Where was my phone call?" when her mother was suffering.

March 6, 2019, 5:52 PM

Sonja Fischer was "83 years old, unable to speak, unable to fight back," her daughter, Maya, told lawmakers on Wednesday.

In 2014, a Minneapolis care facility where her mother lived called and said that the Alzheimer's patient had been raped by a male caregiver.

"My final memories of my mother’s life now include watching her bang uncontrollably on her private parts for days after the rape, with tears rolling down her eyes, apparently trying to tell me what had been done to her, but unable to speak," Fischer told members of the Senate Finance Committee during a heartwrenching hearing on protecting the elderly from abuse in nursing homes.

PHOTO: A senior man in a wheelchair looking out of a window in a hospital corridor appears in this undated stock photo.
A senior man in a wheelchair looking out of a window in a hospital corridor appears in this undated stock photo.
STOCK PHOTO/Getty Images

According to the Minneapolis Star Tribune, in 2015 the caregiver, George Kpingbah, was sentenced to eight years in prison.

"I still feel the guilt of not being able to take care of her myself and having to entrust her care to others only to have her subjected to this unthinkable assault," Maya Fischer said.

Fischer recalled assuring her mother that she would be safe and that she would not suffer.

"I can never overcome the guilt of realizing that these promises were not kept," Fischer said.

During the hearing, witnesses pointed to a wide array of issues in elder care such as insufficient staffing in care facilities and the challenges families face in determining whether a care facility meets the level of quality they want to provide for their relatives.

"Hardly a week goes by without seeing something about nursing home abuse or neglect in the national news. Every family has a loved one — a mother, a father, or a grandparent — who may someday need nursing home care. That makes this a topic of enormous concern to every American," said Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, the committee's chairman.

The committee also heard the story of Virginia Olthoff, who died after suffering extreme neglect at an Iowa nursing home, her daughter testified.

According to the Globe Gazette, the nursing home was fined $77,463 for deficiencies in care, including Olthoff's.

Her daughter, Patricia Blank, said that her mother was hospitalized after an overnight nurse reported that Olthoff was moaning around 3 a.m. Blank said when she arrived at the hospital, an emergency room doctor told her that her mother was extremely dehydrated, and had likely suffered a stroke.

The doctor told her he believed Olthoff had been without water or any type of fluid, for at least four or five days, Blank testified.

"Where was my phone call? The report also said she had been crying out in pain often. Where was my phone call then?" Blank asked the committee.

After Wednesday’s hearing, Grassley announced that two government agencies are working on reports on nursing home abuse. He said he plans to hold another hearing on the topic once the reports are released from the Inspector General of Health and Human Services and the Government Accountability Office.

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