On Jan. 30, 2012, my 90-year-old mother was beaten by an STNA (State Tested Nursing Assistant) in a local nursing home. She suffered a severe head injury, cuts and multiple bruises. She was a petite frail woman, totally dependent on others for her care.
Her injuries were severe enough that the police were contacted. The police officer investigating at the scene confiscated a bloody gown, blood-soaked washcloths and a broken coat hanger, possibly used to strike my mom. My mother, suffering from dementia, was unable to tell anyone what had happened. Her elderly roommate, who had heard the STNA strike my mother three times, was the only witness.
My mother spent the next four nights in a hospital ICU. She died less than a month later on Feb. 28. Because she had health issues that would have recommended her for hospice care prior to the assault, the investigation concluded that the attack was not the direct cause of her death, although I believe it hastened it.
After a lengthy police investigation, no charges were filed. As of Sept. 3, 2013, the case has been officially closed. In spite of an extensive case built by a diligent detective, the prosecutor's office ultimately decided not to pursue charges. The "circumstantial" evidence was not considered strong enough to support a felony conviction. Ultimately, in spite of my mother's obvious injuries, the STNA was not charged with any crime because there was no "credible" witness who saw the incident.
Is this how justice is supposed to work? Prosecutors, of course, want to have winning records and prefer cases with "slam dunk" eyewitness evidence. But should ease of winning a conviction be the deciding factor in pressing charges? When evidence points so strongly to a crime having been committed, isn't charging the only possible suspect the just and right thing to do?
Elderly abuse cases are, undoubtedly, complex. Often lacking eyewitness testimony, they require special medical and criminal justice expertise to successfully prosecute. Medical professionals must be able to distinguish injuries that are caused by mistreatment from accidental injuries and be willing to testify, as they now do in many infant abuse cases. Such cases also lack jury appeal. The elderly victim is often in poor health and close to death; attitudes persist that such cases are not "worth the effort" or the best use of system resources.
By not pursuing charges, however, the justice system allows this abuser to remain nameless. She will be able to retain her STNA license and be able to continue working in nursing homes or in home health care settings. A criminal background check will show no hint that this woman is capable of a vicious assault. On her employment application she simply need not mention the nursing home she worked in or use anyone at the nursing home as a reference.
Your helpless mother or father may, unfortunately, be her next victim.
Joan M. Shreve, Kent