Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Nurse Aide guilty of nursing home residents

One of two women accused of physically and sexually humiliating nursing home residents for months in Albert Lea, Minn., pleaded guilty Monday to three of the charges against her in a case that has heightened attention to how aides are chosen and supervised.

Brianna Broitzman, 21, was an aide at Good Samaritan, the nursing home that was the focus of state investigations and widespread publicity about the case in early 2008.

Six aides, high school friends at the time, were charged - Broitzman and Ashton Larson as adults and the four others as juveniles who were found responsible for not reporting the abuse as required by state law. The women were accused of abusing seven residents who suffered from dementia.

Broitzman agreed to an Alford plea, said Freeborn County Attorney Craig Nelson, meaning that she asserts her innocence but acknowledges that the prosecution has enough evidence to convict her. Her guilty plea covers gross-misdemeanor disorderly conduct involving three victims.

'These are appropriate charges and appropriate pleas based upon the evidence the state anticipated would be presented at the time of trial,' Nelson said Monday, shortly after the action in court. 'I do believe this is an appropriate outcome of the case.'

Sexual abuse cases in nursing homes during the 1980s and '90s led to laws requiring reports of suspected abuse and criminal background checks of those who work with vulnerable adults.

This case has been as important, but in different ways. For one, it has 'toppled stereotypes about who sexual abusers might be, with appealing yearbook pictures instead of menacing mug shots of scruffy men,' said Iris Freeman, director of the Vulnerable Adult Justice Project at the William Mitchell College of Law in St. Paul. She is nationally known for three decades of advocacy for older people.

It also has led to increased training for nursing home staff to better recognize and report suspected abuse, 'but I think the more important issue is how well - or not well - nursing facilities are supervising people who care for vulnerable adults,' Freeman said.

About 15 relatives of victims were in court when the plea was made, Nelson said, adding that the families were consulted beforehand and generally agreed with the arrangement. Most are active in a new group they formed called Families Against Nursing Home Abuse.

Broitzman will be sentenced in Freeborn County District Court on Oct. 22. Nelson said he will endorse results of a presentence investigation, which may recommend that Broitzman spend up to a year in jail, pay a $3,000 fine or spend two years on probation, 'although I will not be surprised if, with no prior criminal history, Ms. Broitzman receives probation.'

Her trial, which had been moved to Rochester because of the publicity the case attracted, was scheduled to start Aug. 23.

The case against Larson, 20, another former aide at the Good Samaritan nursing home, is proceeding toward trial. A change of venue also has been granted in that case, but a location has yet to be determined. A hearing on that matter is set for Sept. 16, Nelson said.

Broitzman and Larson were charged with fifth-degree assault, abuse of a vulnerable adult by a caregiver, abuse of a vulnerable adult with sexual contact, disorderly conduct and failing to report suspected maltreatment. All are gross misdemeanors.

The charges against Broitzman said she admitted to police that she poked one resident in the breast. The teens who were implicated accused Broitzman of numerous other actions, including spitting in a resident's mouth, jabbing the breasts of several residents and putting 'her bare butt' on a resident's face.

According to the complaint against Larson, she admitted to police that she inserted her finger into the rectum of a resident. She said she was trying to trigger a bowel movement but acknowledged that this was not part of her training. The complaint said she also acknowledged getting into bed with a resident and making a humping motion, patting the buttocks of one resident and trying to get another angry and then laughing at her.

The allegations became public in August 2008, when state Health Department inspectors concluded that aides, to make their work 'fun,' had abused 15 residents suffering from Alzheimer's and other forms of dementia. The state said some of the residents were combative, easily agitated or blind.

Broitzman, Larson and the nursing home's owner also are being sued by families of residents who allegedly were abused.

'You know, there's new research that indicates some people with Alzheimer's or dementia can tell us that something is wrong, and that's one of the things that this case showed,' said Deb Holtz , ombudsman for long-term care at the state Department of Human Services.

She said her office, with 13 regional ombudsmen and about 70 volunteers, developed an education program for nursing homes called 'Stand Up for Yourself and for Others' to empower residents to take action if they suspect abuse.

'Pay attention when someone is showing agitation or sadness or acting different,' Holtz said. 'People with Alzheimer's do communicate with us, through their behaviors.'

Plea deal reached in abuse of Minn. nursing home residents

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