Nursing home staff face charges in abuse of elderly patients

ATLANTA (Reuters) - Twenty-one current and former employees of a nursing home for Alzheimer’s patients in Georgia, including its owner, face a total of more than 70 criminal charges for allegedly abusing elderly patients, authorities said Tuesday.

The abuses included employees restraining patients with bed sheets and subjecting them to “inhumane and undignified conditions” at Alzheimer’s Care of Commerce, about 60 miles north of Atlanta, according to a statement from the Georgia Bureau of Investigation.

“There were accounts of physical abuse, such as staff members striking patients and throwing water on them,” the statement said.

“Experts say Alzheimer’s patients are more vulnerable to abuse because they are often unable to defend themselves and because forgetfulness can make them less likely to report it.

In 2012, a Congressional report showed that patients suffer abuse or neglect in one in three nursing homes in the United States.

In a nationwide survey conducted in 2010, about 50 percent of nursing home staff surveyed admitted they had mistreated their older patients within the past year. Most of those instances included neglect of the patient.

Earlier this year, a circuit judge in West Virginia upheld a $91.5 million verdict against a nursing home in the death of an 87-year-old woman with Alzheimer’s.

Accusations against employees at the Georgia nursing home included “double diapering” of patients, so that the staff would not have to change soiled diapers as often, authorities said.

Investigators also discovered that staff members at the facility had felony convictions on charges such as voluntary manslaughter and identify theft, according to the statement.

The owner, Donna Wright, is among those facing criminal charges, including cruelty to a person 65 years or older, abuse, neglect and financial exploitation, said John Heinen, a spokesman for the Georgia Bureau of Investigation.

By late Tuesday afternoon, 11 of the 21 suspects had been arrested, but Wright, the owner, was still at large, he said.

There were 27 patients at the nursing home on Tuesday when investigators arrived, and three were taken to a local hospital for medical treatment, he said.

The remaining patients will be moved from the home after consultation with family members, the spokesman said.

Editing By Karen Brooks and David Brunnstrom