Sexual abuse in nursing homes continues to be a widespread concern, and providers must implement safeguards for reporting suspected abuse promptly, long-term care resident advocates said Wednesday.

The National Consumer Voice for Quality Long-Term Care hosted a webinar Wednesday titled “Sexual Abuse in Nursing Homes: What You Need to Know,” along with releasing a new issue brief on the topic. Lori Smetanka, executive director for the group, said the amount of interest in the topic indicates “we’re on the right track in focusing our attention on this issue.” Ombudsman programs investigated more than 800 complaints related to sexual abuse at nursing homes in 2016, and women or those with dementia are particularly at risk. 

If staff at a nursing home suspects abuse, experts said, it is crucial that they implement safeguards to prevent further attacks, report the abuse to the state survey agency and police, conduct a thorough investigation, and document and report the incident, she said.

Timeliness is crucial, Smetanka said, with any evidence preserved right away. “It’s really critical that the allegations not only be reported quickly, but investigated quickly,” she said. “It’s very difficult to substantiate if you don’t have the evidence involved.”

Most importantly, she added, listen to those who live in your facilities. 

“If a resident has indicated that they have been assaulted or raped, believe them,” she said. “Your first step should certainly be to believe them and try to get them some support.”

Providers can find the new issue brief, a recording of the webinar and additional resources here.