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Violent abuse in institutions takes spotlight -- for now
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Mar. 5, 2002 -- A General Accounting Office report released Monday (March 4) says that one in 5 of the nation's nursing homes have had cases of sexual or physical abuse that were not reported to law enforcement. Sen. John Breaux, D-Louisiana, chairman of the Senate Special Committee on Aging, told reporters that "law enforcement officials really don't want to go into a nursing home. They'd rather the institution handle it by themselves." (See story at

Violette King told the New York Times's Robert Pear she had found her father, Louis H. Papagianis, "with bruises, scratches and cuts on his arms, neck and cheek and behind his ears." Papagianis, she said, was considered "combative." "Now I understand why," she told Pear. "He was trying to save his own life." Papagianis had been beaten by a nurse's aide; nothing had been done for "8 or 9" months; the aide was fired only to be hired by another institution across the state line (read Robert Pear's story online at (free registration required)).

Over 1.5 million Americans in 17,000 nursing homes brought nursing home operators $58.4 billion in reimbursements from Medicare and Medicaid in 2001. The federal oversight agency for nursing homes, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, or CMS, does not require nursing homes to call police about a crime, according to a report from the Associated Press.

A report released Feb. 21 by the Democratic staff of the House Government Reform Committee said that none of the 25,204 violations of federal health standards found by state investigators from Oct. 1, 2000 to Dec. 31, 2001 appeared anywhere on the "Nursing Home Compare" web site, maintained by the Department of Health and Human Services at The site purports to offer the public a searchable database on the compliance status of nursing homes nationwide. A Feb. 21 story by NPR's Joseph Shapiro said the site gets over 4.5 million hits a month.

These two Congressional committee reports have thrown a current spotlight on a continuing problem. But abuse of people put into nursing homes and other institutions because of their disabilities is often not covered by media. Last summer's 7/3/2001 E-Letter reported on this issue ("Violence against people with disabilities among 'Project Censored' top 25," online at A website on violence and abuse against people with disabilities, run by the University of Alberta's J. P. Das Developmental Disabilities Centre, can be found at

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