A former nurse at the Life Care Center of Coos Bay has filed suit against the Oregon dementia care facility, arguing that management failed to maintain a safe environment for residents and staff members, leading to sexual harassment and abuse.
Oregon Nurse Says Life Care Center Fostered Environment Of Abuse
The plaintiff, who is represented by attorneys at the Freedom Resource Center in Eugene, Oregon, says in court documents that she was sexually abused by a resident of the facility, named as JH in court filings. She claims that JH would grope her as she attempted to care for him, but that her calls for help went unheard.
The woman says that she took her concerns to management at the Life Care Center, but that the facility’s operators “failed to take appropriate steps to stop the harassment.” The plaintiff claims that JH would grope other staff members as well, but that the dementia care center “failed to respond to her requests to make the workplace safe.”
Instead of working to end JH’s alleged misconduct, Life Care Center chose to fire the former nurse instead, she claims in court filings. In the lawsuit, the plaintiff outlines five claims for relief, including two claims for wrongful termination. She also levels accusations of negligence and allowing a hostile workplace environment to persist at the facility.
Health Care Center Had Duty To Prevent Harassment, Nurse Claims
In her lawsuit, the plaintiff argues that health care facilities like the Life Care Center of Coos Bay have a legal duty to “keep both […] patients and […] employees safe in this type of situation.” She says the facility should have responded “immediately and appropriately” to any form of sexual harassment in the workplace, but accuses the Life Care Center of failing to uphold these obligations.
Nor should the Life Care Center have been surprised by JH’s alleged misconduct. The nurse claims that JH had a “history” of sexually harassing women in other long-term care facilities. At one point, she says, staff at the Life Care Center were forced to take away the man’s iPad to “prevent [him] from viewing child pornography in the future.”
Resident’s Misconduct Was Well Known
The plaintiff claims that Life Care Center had sufficient advance notice of JH’s predilections. “On the day [the facility] admitted Resident JH, Resident JH’s brother-in-law told [the] Nursing Director, Irene Reed, that Resident JH had inappropriately touched female staff where he lived before,” the lawsuit claims. Some time later, Resident JH was allowed to keep his iPad “and he resumed watching pornography.”
On at least two occasions, the lawsuit claims, the pornographic material viewed on JH’s iPad accidentally connected to the “large TV screens” in the Life Care Center’s common area, exposing staff members and residents to his pornography.
Former Nurse Describes Abuse
The outright harassment began soon after, the former nurse writes. On one occasion, the nurse says that she entered JH’s room to give him medication, but found him watching a “low-quality video on his iPad.” JH began caressing her arms, and, while the nurse wanted more than anything to pull away, she was holding his feeding tube and could not.
JH went on to grab the nurse and pull her close, at which point she said, “that is not okay. You need to stop right now!” “Then, he put his hand on her buttocks,” the lawsuit reads. The nurse saw on JH’s iPad a video of “little girls running down a grassy hill.” She feared that it was child pornography, finished treating the man, left the room, went to a closet and cried.
Nurse Says Management Failed To Act
The nurse says she began suffering from anxiety attacks. After the incident in JH’s bedroom, the nurse went to the Life Care Center’s Executive Director, Jesse Winkler, to talk. She told Winkler that she didn’t feel safe, that she needed to see a doctor and that she couldn’t finish her shift, but she was told that she was not allowed to leave. She attempted to continue working, but found that she was unable. After going to a supervisor, and again being refused the possibility of leaving, she left anyway.
Police Investigate Alleged Harassment
On March 30, 2017, the nurse took her concerns to the police, speaking with Detective Hugo Hatzel of the Coos Bay Police Department. Hatzel responded to the Life Care Center, where he was told that, just that morning, another staff member had been inappropriately touched by JH. Detective Hatzel then interviewed JH, who became teary-eyed and apologetic.
Hatzel says he looked through the contents of the resident’s iPad and found several pornographic images, but no child pornography.
Writing in a police report, Detective Hatzel says that he explained to JH that his “actions would be considered sexual harassment, however due to [JH’s] physical and mental deficiencies, it was [Hatzel’s] belief that he would not be able to aid in his defense, and therefore could not be charged with a crime.”
Hatzel could not charge JH with a crime, but he did recommend to Director Winkler that the facility block the resident’s access to pornography. “I was shocked,” Detective Hatzel writes, “when Mr. Winkler told me that it was specifically written in [JH’s] residential agreement that he would be granted access to view pornography and in essence Mr. Winkler didn’t believe he could curtail [the resident’s] right to sexuality.”
Prosecutors Decline To Pursue Case
The prosecutor’s office came to a similar conclusion as Detective Hatzel, finding that the criminal case could not go forward due to JH’s mental condition. Speaking with Coos County District Attorney Paul Frasier, reporters at the World learned that JH would not be prosecuted for his apparent crimes. “We run into these issues occasionally with these patients in care centers where they have dementia or Alzheimer’s, or both, and because of their mental condition they do not understand what’s going on around them,” Frasier said.
“We would have to prove to a court, before even beginning to prosecute, that they understood what they were charged with, understood the penalty they were facing, understood what it would mean to plead guilty or not guilty.” In the end, “there was no way we could prosecute the case,” Frasier concluded. “He simply wasn’t competent to proceed.”
As for the plaintiff’s life, it has rapidly deteriorated since she was abused by JH. After reporting the assault to police, she checked herself into an inpatient care facility because she was experiencing suicidal thoughts. The Nursing Board of Oregon has now suspended her license due to the hospitalization.