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Let veterans’ home residents protect their possessions

Published: July 15, 2019

Regarding the article “RI Veterans Home leadership confronts persistent problem of theft” (posted to stripes.com on June 28): Thefts aren’t the only reported criminal conduct occurring at the state-run residential and nursing facility for war veterans, or the worst.

Omitted from The Providence Journal article is mention of the nature and extent of reports of abuse, neglect and other mistreatment occurring at the veterans’ home, as disclosed in public records that were provided to The Journal.

Those records include reports of elderly residents being punched, shoved and slapped; multiple residents left unbathed and soaked in urine in their beds for several hours while nursing assistants were watching television; a resident found “totally left neglected” during two work shifts after returning to the home from a hospital stay; another abandoned and left to sleep fully clothed sitting in his wheelchair overnight; a resident who was refused a blanket and urinal and told to “pee in the bed”; another slapped and called “fat with man boobs and a small member (referring to his penis)”; innumerable thefts of cash and other property in residents’ rooms taken from wheelchair and clothing pockets, hidden in bedside drawers, and tucked under bedding while they lay asleep in their beds; money stolen from the wallet of a resident told to stand and face the wall in his room while the theft occurred; cash taken from inside a DVD case hidden deep in a drawer in a resident’s room; cash stolen from an envelope in a resident’s purse in her room while she was using the bathroom; missing clothing and care packages from family members that had been placed in residents’ rooms.

One resident was saving his money to buy new sneakers; another to play Bingo at the home.

The Journal stated it was given a two-hour tour to see “how the home addresses thefts,” without further elaboration, and noted that the people running the home say “they monitor security closely” and reports of thefts “get reported to the Rhode Island State Police.”

State Police records note, however, there are no surveillance cameras in the vicinity of the residents’ rooms and most matters are not criminally prosecuted due to lack of evidentiary proof, despite some incidents being witnessed by supervising registered nurses.

The records further reveal that not all incidents of crime are being reported by the home to the State Police. Also, some ongoing police investigations were halted because the veterans’ home claimed that residents ultimately decided to have their matters handled in-house by the home.

Equally troubling is the exculpatory commentary contained in The Journal article about the routineness of thefts in nursing facilities; expectations of theft if people “insist on” leaving their valuables in plain sight, tempting low-wage workers to steal; and the “bigger issue” being family members ripping off elderly people of hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Police believe that in-room security cameras would provide an effective deterrent to criminal behavior, and a growing number of states have enacted laws allowing in-room cameras in nursing facilities rather than entrusting patient security to the whims and self-serving interests of those institutions.

The home’s administration, however, will not explicitly allow residents to use cameras in their private rooms at their financial cost. Commentary by the administrator of the home, Rick Baccus, that he “probably couldn’t stop veterans from installing cameras” is noncommittal and otherwise dubious. Also, I understand that at least one such self-installed camera was ordered removed by him.

Written communications with the Rhode Island governor, legislators and the home’s administration about the problems occurring at the home have been met with disregard.

The Internet is replete with photos of them enthusiastically attending celebratory events at the home but apparently not so eager to meaningfully address and resolve the situation.

These veterans need our loud support for legislation allowing residents to install, use and monitor in-room security cameras to ensure their safety, welfare and peaceful habitation at the home.

Editor’s note: Cynthia M. Owens is a pro bono attorney for military veterans who was quoted in the article.

Cynthia M. Owens

Virginia Beach, Va.

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