Aged care home carried on 'business as usual' and ignored sexual assault of resident, family says
- Category: Uncategorised
- Created: Saturday, 13 April 2019 23:35
- Written by Anne Connolly - ABC Investigations
The man who had just sexually assaulted her was a nurse, and she worried he might return if she called for help.
Instead, Mrs Major turned the light on hoping another employee would notice and come into her room to ask what was wrong.
On the night of the attack, November 6, 2017, Mrs Major was not in a hospital — she was in her nursing home, Bayside Aged Care in NSW's Lake Macquarie region.
It was a male agency nurse, rather than her usual carer, who carried out the assault.
He entered her room, claiming he needed to conduct an internal vaginal assessment.
"He said 'I heard you had a pimple or something, a red mark'," Mrs Major said.
"I said, 'I got no mark on me. If I had a mark on me I'd show the doctor'.
"He told me he was as good as a doctor."
'We'll get rid of him'
Mrs Major — or Dot as she prefers to be known — is an engaging woman with a strong sense of humour.
At 85, she does not have dementia, but she has diabetes, is confined to a wheelchair and requires carers for all her basic personal needs.
Sexual assault is a difficult subject for a woman of Mrs Major's generation to speak about.
When describing the attack, she laughs nervously and stumbles over her words.
But she is very clear on a number of details, none of which have changed over time.
For example, she has always maintained the perpetrator was a well-spoken man.
When he began touching her "in the private area", Mrs Major said she told him to leave her alone.
But the nurse insisted he was not a bad person, even suggesting she might like "a little play".
"He said, 'why don't you take your legs out, take both legs out' and I said, 'get the bloody hell out of it'."
Eventually, another nurse noticed the light was on in Mrs Major's room and checked on her.
"I told her [what happened] and she said, 'I'll have a talk to him, he shouldn't do that, he's not allowed', or something," Mrs Major said.
"She said, 'we'll get rid of him'.
"He was still there I believe, a week later."
Family kept in the dark about assault
Mrs Major's daughter, June Austen, said the home did not contact any family members after the assault.
She only found out when she visited, five days later.
"She is usually quite bright and ready for a visitor, but she had her head down," Ms Austen said.
"I said, 'what's happened to you?' and she said, 'something terrible has happened'."
Ms Austen is angry she was not informed and that her mother, she says, was not given any support after being sexually assaulted.
"Nobody came to see her and talk about it," she said.
"They just took it upon themselves to do business as usual and ignore that it happened."
A week after Mrs Major reported being sexually abused, her daughter and granddaughter took detectives to Bayside Aged Care, owned by one of the biggest private aged care providers, Allity.
Police interviewed Dorothy and met with management.
Ms Austen said her first question for Bayside was: "Have you sacked this man?"
"She said 'no, he's still working for us', Ms Austen recalled.
"And I said, 'Well what did you do to protect my mother', and she said, 'We told him not to go into that room'.
"And so that's when I lost it."
According to Ms Austen, the facility manager told her the job was the man's livelihood and "we can't just sack people".
Ms Austen said the nursing home tried to suggest her mother's story had "changed" and she was "confused", but the family disputes this.
Ms Austen never discovered who the agency nurse was.
She said police dissuaded the family from pressing charges.
"'Do you want her to be interrogated by solicitors who are very clever, and you know they'll just bamboozle her and she won't know what she's talking about."
The family decided not to press charges, but thought the police would still interview the nurse.
Police have not responded to a question from the ABC as to whether that happened.
Ms Austen said police told the family the nurse's name would be noted and if his name "popped up again", there would be a warning to say something had happened before, so officers would "take a bit more notice".
"It just reminds me of the way priests are allowed to offend and then they just get sent on to the next place and offend again," Ms Austen said.
Allity, the company that owns Bayside Aged Care, declined an interview but sent a statement saying it was "the first allegation of its kind at Bayside" and police had found "there was no case to answer".
But police in New South Wales have confirmed they are investigating the incident.
Not an isolated case
Mrs Major's case is just one of several sexual assault cases in nursing homes uncovered by the ABC's Background Briefing program.
Last year the Department of Health reported 547 incidents of sexual abuse in residential aged care, an increase of 40 per cent on the previous 12-month period.
Rates of reported sexual abuse have risen 65 per cent since 2008.
In the past decade, more than 3,700 sexual assaults of nursing home residents have been reported.
Those numbers are for staff and residents who do not have dementia.
Academics studying sexual assaults of the elderly are critical of the federal Department of Health, which does not analyse any of its data for insights into who the perpetrators are, who the victims are and how many assaults lead to convictions.
Dr Catherine Barrett is the coordinator of the Power Project, a website which provides information around the prevention and reporting of the sexual abuse of older women.
"There is no system here," Dr Barrett said.
"There is a pathway for reporting but there is no system for prevention.
"I think the community [has] the right to be outraged and the right to say, 'if that was my auntie, my grandmother, my sister, I would not allow this to happen and that is not OK'."
Dr Barrett said the numbers are the tip of the iceberg because nursing homes do not have to report sexual assaults if the perpetrator has a cognitive or mental impairment, such as dementia.
She said the number of assaults per year would be "in the thousands" if they were reported.
Accused may still be working in aged care sector
The ABC asked Allity, NSW Police, and the federal health department whether the man accused of sexually assaulting Mrs Major is still working in the industry, but no one responded to that question.
The Department of Health sent a statement saying:
"The department does not investigate incidents of assault as this is a criminal offence and … is a matter for police."
Months after the assault, Ms Austen wrote to the Aged Care Complaints Commissioner trying to find out what happened to the agency nurse.
In an email, the commissioner said Allity had requested the nurse not work at their facility any more.
A spokesman for the office of the commissioner said he was "not aware if the nurse is still employed in the aged care sector", and that Ms Austen would need to make a formal Freedom of Information request if she wanted to know what action Allity had taken.
For the family, thinking he could still be out there, working in the aged care sector, is terrifying.
"He could go to that home (where Mrs Major now lives)," Ms Austen said.
Ms Austen is scarred by the experience.
"We had no help, we had no guidance and it was clear that nobody really cared enough to get to the root of the matter," Ms Austen said.
"Which was … my mother had been sexually assaulted by a staff member and nothing had been done about it."
Ultimately, the family is most concerned for Mrs Major, who still speaks of the assault.
"She often says to me: 'Have they caught that bloke yet? Do you know what happened to him? Is he going to the courts?'," Ms Austen said.
As for Mrs Major, she simply says: "I try to forget about Bayside."