ST. LOUIS (KMOV.com) -- Seniors living in nursing homes are at risk of a danger many of their loved ones haven’t ever considered.
Cases of sexual abuse often go unreported inside nursing homes, and local families are being exposed to the unthinkable actions committed against some of society’s most vulnerable members.
Last month a family claimed their loved one was raped inside a Ferguson nursing home.
“I don't think we like think about that happening, those are grandparents, our mothers, our fathers,” said Mary Lynn Faunda Donovan, Executive Director for VOYCE, an advocacy group for seniors. With specific challenges, like dementia, the elderly are especially vulnerable and experts say sexual abuse in long-term care facilities is a reality.
“We get calls from residents as well as family members where they have suspected that sexual assault or abuse has occurred,” Faunda Donovan said. Exact data is difficult to gather because so many of the cases happen in secret.
“Sexual assault is grossly underreported,” Faunda Donovan said.
Sex offenders, too, are getting cared for inside the very same homes as people’s loved ones.
News 4 conducted an in-depth analysis, comparing every nursing home and long-term care facility in our area with the Missouri and Illinois sex offender registry.
Close to 100 sex offenders are registered at long-term care facilities, sometimes several are clustered in the same home.
A review found close to a dozen sex offenders registered at Bernard Care Center in the Central West End of St Louis.
The news is a shock to some, including people like Rickey Langston, who has a non-verbal family member living there.
“I am very, very concerned about that,” said Langston.
He added that no one on staff at the facility ever informed him there were sex offenders living there.
Missouri law doesn't require other residents or family members to be notified when a sex offender moves in.
In fact, no specific regulations address sex offenders living in Missouri’s nursing homes.
People living near the homes questioned why there are clusters of sex offenders housed there. It turns out it's completely up to each facility to decide if they'll accept sex offenders.
Rick DeStefane owns Reliant Care Management Company in St. Louis County, including the Bernard Care Center.
“I would rather have them in my controlled units and facilities than on the streets,” DeStefane said.
Relant Care has approximately 70 sex offenders living in their 25 facilities statewide.
“We not only take care of sexual offenders we take care of acute mental illness [cases] no one else wants to take,” DeStefane said.
He added there are numerous safeguards in place, and said none of his residents have reoffended to his knowledge. "None. Never,” he said.
Several people News 4 interviewed felt that while sick or elderly sex offenders deserve care, they'd rather be informed.
Langston says he has a lot more questions for the center now.
“I am going to have a conversation with them,” he said.
Although more rare, News 4 found four sex offenders who work in nursing homes in the state. That, too, is often at the discretion of the facility.
Statistics say perpetrators of abuse are often the employees, but again, there just isn't a lot of data.
A new law, just passed in Missouri now requires any suspected sexual abuse in nursing homes must be reported to law enforcement.
We’re asking lawmakers if other new regulations are needed.
If you want to check your loved ones’ facility in Missouri, put in the address of the home, here.
To check in Illinois, put in their address, here.