October 18, 2019

War Veterans Face New Battles in R. I. Veterans' Home


Our treasured war veterans, who bravely served to protect our ideals of liberty and justice, have encountered a different type of conflict while residing at the Rhode Island Veterans' Home.

Instead of experiencing peaceful sleep and convalescence at the Home, many elderly residents, including World War II vets, have helplessly endured prowling and other nefarious behavior in their private rooms, becoming victims of theft and further mistreatment, at the hands of a new enemy -- members of nursing staff charged with the duty of their care.

Public records obtained from state agencies reveal reports of ongoing occurrences of criminal behavior and other misconduct at the Home in recent years, including, among other things:

• physical abuse, i.e., "punching," "shoving," and "slapping around" elderly residents
• multiple residents left unbathed and soaked in urine in their beds for extended periods of time -- one found "totally neglected" many hours after returning to the Home from a hospital stay -- and a resident abandoned to sleep in his wheelchair overnight without any bedtime care
• repeat attempts to coerce the payment of money from a resident (with the nursing union informing police that it was simply a "joke")
• innumerable thefts of cash, credit cards, and other personal property -- from residents' wheelchair and clothing pockets, hidden in bedside drawers, and tucked under bedding, while residents were asleep in their rooms; money stolen from a wallet in the bed of a resident, who was told to stand and face the wall in his room while the theft occurred; cash taken from a wheelchair pocket while a resident was being transported to his room without his consent; a medal of honor taken from a locked drawer in a resident's room; clothing and care packages from family members placed in residents' rooms; and many other incidents of theft occurring mostly in the veterans' rooms during the graveyard shift

One theft victim had been saving money to buy new sneakers; another to play Bingo at the Home.

The records further indicate:
• a response from the nursing manager to the report of the "totally neglected" resident that she would follow up on the complaint when the worker was next scheduled to work at the Home
• a nursing worker was placed on "paid" leave for admitting to slapping a resident on his thigh and making humiliating remarks about him being "fat with man boobs and a small member (referring to his penis)," as quoted in the police report
• a nursing worker was allowed to return to work after receiving counselling for reported physical abuse to a 91-year-old resident
• complaints had been made against a nursing worker, who nonetheless was allowed to continue working at the Home, until her arrest on a later complaint for stealing gold rings from a 91-year-old resident's fingers
• a nursing worker was arrested, and is awaiting trial (as of this writing), on charges of credit card theft from a resident However, State Police reports note there are no surveillance cameras in the vicinity of the residents' rooms, resulting in mostly cold cases due to lack of evidentiary proof.

Although police believe that the use of security cameras would effectively curtail criminal conduct, the Vets' Home administration does not allow residents -- who pay approximately 80% of their income for residency at the Home -- to install, maintain and monitor security cameras at their cost in their private rooms.
Further, according to minutes of a recent meeting last year before the Governor's Advisory Council on Veterans' Affairs, the Administrator of the Veterans' Home, Rick Baccus, stated that "patients are very satisfied with their care." Based on online news reports and photos, it appears the Governor, state and federal legislators, and the Veterans' Home Administrator, are enthusiastic about attending celebratory events at the newly-constructed, multimillion-dollar residential home and nursing facility – but apparently not so eager to implement safeguards to protect residents from criminal activity at the Home.

A growing number of states have enacted legislation mandating and/or allowing in-room security cameras for residents in nursing facilities as a fail-safe measure to protect against criminal conduct.

However, written requests to lawmakers, and others with oversight authority, for a public hearing and/or legislation allowing inroom security cameras have been met with evasion and disregard.

The abiding lack of meaningful redress from the Home's administration, its agency heads and informed legislators, is inexcusable.

These veterans need our support to ensure their safety, welfare and peaceful habitation at the Home.

Cynthia M. Owens
Pro Bono Attorney for military veterans
6802B Ocean Front A venue
Virginia Beach, VA 23451
(757) 422-3860


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