Elizabeth Leis Newman

If you typed the word “strippers” into the McKnight’s archives Tuesday, the only story that came up was a blog about floor care. That changed Wednesday when we ran the news of a lawsuit in New York involving strippers allegedly being hired at a nursing home for resident entertainment.

To recap the lawsuit, the son of a resident at East Neck Nursing & Rehabilitation Center is suing because he says his mother has suffered detriment to her mental, physical and emotional well-being after being gyrated upon by a male stripper. There’s also an allegation that the nursing home took money from the resident, Bernice Youngblood, in order to “perpetrate various perverse and vile acts upon its patients.” They’re asking for, explicitly, a speedy jury trial and, less explicitly, lots of money in damages.

Legally, at least part of the case will likely depend on whether residents requested the event, if residents could opt out, and the payment structure, as well as whether residents could consent if they had dementia. Still, as interesting as it would be to follow this in a trial — What would the stripper wear when he took the stand? Would he have to demonstrate? — my hunch is the case will settle at some point, and Youngblood can live out her days in peace. There’s also a question about who is exploiting whom here: The nursing home in allowing the strippers, or the family who made the photo and lawsuit public.

For long-term care industry professionals, beyond the legal questions, the issue revives philosophical questions about sexuality in long-term care, including questions of consent. It’s worth noting that, according to the nursing home’s lawyer, a resident panel did vote to bring in the strippers. It’s probably not what culture change advocates had in mind when they talk about empowering residents, but I suspect loneliness and boredom were cured the day the strippers arrived.  

Gayle Doll, Ph.D., the author of “Sexuality and Long-Term Care” and the director of the Kansas State University Center on Aging (she’s also an assistant professor), points out it’s not uncommon for European nursing homes to hire strippers or call girls, although it’s a non-starter in more conservative (some would say puritanical) U.S. nursing homes.

But Doll makes the point that nursing home administrators should look at this issue in the realm of personal resident choice.

“I would equate it to pets in the building,” she told me. “Some people would be strongly opposed, and one compromise is to have pets on certain floors.”

“The bottom line is they should be able to have stripper parties or lingerie parties because it is a resident’s home,” she says. However, she adds that, just as if this type of event were being held in an apartment building or college dorm, there should be an easy way to opt-out.

To anticipate the question I know is on your mind: What about F-tags? What Would The Surveyors Do?

Doll points out the answer largely depends on your state. One thing everyone can agree on is the lack of consistency in how surveyors interpret F-tags, especially questions related to resident dignity and choice. It’s also a natural tendency to want to err on the side of caution.

“It’s a tough one,” Doll says. “It’s a highly charged emotional situation.”

The big takeaway, with all questions related to sex, is that facilities need to be consistent with their policies and standards. The Hebrew Home at Riverdale, for example, has discussed its embrace of sexual rights. Other communities may say a firm “no” to strippers or escorts, but allow residents who are dating to engage in intimate activity in private. Others may struggle with policies for residents with dementia, a particularly tough issue since Alzheimer’s can lower sexual inhibitions.

None of this is easy, and it’s reasonable for family members and administrators to want to make sure resident dignity is a cornerstone of a facility, not to mention a certain amount of protection for people who are vulnerable. But we also have to remember that sexuality does not diminish with age.

Elizabeth Newman is Senior Editor at McKnight’s. Follow her @TigerELN.