BOSTON (WHDH) - They’ve attacked before, and could do so again. So why aren’t your loved ones told when a sex offender moves into their nursing home?
7NEWS uncovered convicted rapists and child abusers living in our state’s nursing homes and a system that keeps them secret.
Their convictions range from gross lewdness to aggravated rape to child rape. One of them has racked up a total of 24 sexual convictions. And all of them are living nearly invisibly among vulnerable senior citizens.
“The people in that nursing home that have a registered sex offender within their community don’t know it,” said David Hoey, a Massachusetts attorney who handles headline-grabbing elder abuse cases.
7NEWS took the addresses of nursing and rest homes in Massachusetts and compared them to the addresses for sex offenders on our state’s registry. Two Level 2 and 10 Level 3 sex offenders – the most dangerous kind – came up matches.
“Twelve is a lot. I think it’s more,” Hoey said.
“I found out accidentally when I wanted to join the neighborhood watch,” said Penny Shaw, a longtime Massachusetts nursing home resident and advocate for other residents. One registered sex offender lives in Shaw’s nursing home.
“Nobody but me in the building knows,” said Shaw.
Staff has assured her that he’s in poor health and far from a threat.
“In my building, I had no fear. I had 100 percent confidence in my facility’s ability to manage it,” said Shaw.
But worst fears have been realized before.
“The mental harm is the harm that can’t be erased or fixed,” said Hoey.
More than a decade ago, Hoey sued both a nursing home in Norwood and John Enos, a Level 3 sex offender who had lived there.
“His sex offense crimes were to children. So the nursing home did not believe that he would act out on elderly people,” said Hoey. Yet Enos was arrested for raping his 90-year-old roommate.
“He (the roommate) was a World War Two vet. There’s a level of honor there that can’t be replaced,” said Hoey.
Prosecutors dropped the case after Enos died the next year, and the civil case was later settled. Hoey insisted many other cases never begin.
“There are a number of families, because of that mental harm, who just will not come forward,” Hoey said.
“So you think there are other cases like this out there over the past decade, and we just don’t know about them?” a 7NEWS reporter asked Hoey.
“I know for a fact there are,” said Hoey. “The families realize that the litigation is not going to help them erase the mental harm.”
The year after Enos was arrested, Massachusetts banned Level 3 sex offenders from living in nursing homes. But the Supreme Judicial Court ruled that law unconstitutional when one offender challenged it. Since then, offenders have moved in, while other residents are left in the dark.
“There’s no way they would know. And sometimes the nursing homes themselves don’t know because there’s no requirement for them to ask that question,” said Pam Nadash, an associate professor in the Department of Gerontology at UMass Boston who has studied the issue. In addition, even if a nursing home knows of an offender living in its facility, management is not required to tell anyone.
“There’s a really strong argument that you have a right to know,” said Nadash, while also cautioning against overreaction. “These people are really sick and frail. They’re not necessarily going to be up to doing anything harmful.”
“The real issue is not notification. The real issue is whether the management knows what they’re doing and takes someone who is not a risk,” Shaw said. “The onus still falls on the building to protect people.”
Tara Gregorio, president of the Massachusetts Senior Care Association, which represents many nursing homes, provided the following statement to 7NEWS:
“While there are no specific regulatory requirements or restrictions relative to sex offenders living in nursing facilities, our facilities screen every application carefully, and work diligently to ensure the safety of every patient. Along with quality of care, patient safety is a top priority. The Massachusetts Senior Care Association and its members continue to welcome any guidance from the state Department of Public Health that balances resident safety and privacy.”
Still, Hoey insisted nursing homes can do more.
“If you have a sex offender registered, living in your nursing home, you post it. Residents have a right to know,” said Hoey.
Federal law does require nursing homes to identify any residents who may abuse others and come up with a plan to prevent it, without specifically addressing sex offenders. In Massachusetts, background checks are required for nursing home staff, but not residents.
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