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The Dirty Side of Healthcare

dirty side of healthcareSexual Assault Awareness and Prevention Month is upon us, and it’s a great opportunity to shed some much-needed light on less obvious examples of sexual assault.

When you think of “sexual assault,” your mind may immediately go to the typical scenarios. A woman accosted, or worse, raped on her early-morning run. The creepy 40-something teacher who has “relations” with one of his (or increasingly more often, HER) students. What you might not think of is an incidence of sexual assault at your local hospital.

In fact, there has been a recent string of cases involving health care practitioners, most commonly male nurses or nursing aides, who have been convicted of sexually assaulting patients who were unconscious.  In other cases, the patients aren’t even unconscious; instead, they are patients who are recovering from recent surgeries or related injuries, and are forced to perform sexual acts in exchange for pain pills.
Now, you might say to yourself . . . “How can this happen in a place where patients are supposed to be safe? Surely these are isolated incidents.”

It Happens More Than You Think

Even in the first few months of 2012 alone there have been several highly public cases of gross misconduct within hospital walls.  One of them involves a male caregiver named Hal Weston, who instead of taking care of a highly intoxicated man, was found giving oral sex to the patient.  Another well-publicized case took place in Lake County, Florida.  A male nurse was charged with sexual assault, and investigators claimed that he was forcing women to have sex with him in return for painkiller prescriptions.  As of now, a total of three women have come forward with accusations of assault.  And, as with most sexually-involved cases, it is not yet clear how many other women remain anonymous.
Will it Just Get Worse in the Coming Years?

If the national health care reform passes through the Supreme Court, it will make health insurance mandatory.  While there will be proper enforcement to ensure everyone has health coverage, how will quality of care be measured and regulated?  Patients have been victims of sexual assault by caregivers for many years, and yet, according to the frequency we are seeing, there is no real protection against it.  

And the “deviance” doesn’t end there . . . Some people even fantasize about such scenarios happening to them, either by their spouses during episodes of role-playing or via an attractive, big-busted nurse.  Hollywood recently downplayed the severity of the situation as well, and used this situation as a main plot device for the recent hit comedy Horrible Bosses. In this movie an attractive female dentist capitalizes on her patient’s anesthetic drowsiness by seducing and attempting to rape him.  

Help is Within Reach

If we are abused by the ones we trust our lives with, who else can we turn to?  Fortunately, all is not lost. There are a number of websites and services available to help prevent such events from happening.  Many states offer the ability to view any caregiver’s medical license and background information at no cost; and some even provide detailed reports of disciplinary documents, if any exist.  Many caregivers also participate in national databases for the public to view, such as Nursys.com.  

While these precautions are put in place to try and prevent patients from being harmed, it may not be enough.  The caregiver from Florida, for example, allegedly assaulted several women before leaving the hospital for another hospital in another city.  During the hiring process, no red flags were raised and the caregiver in question was awarded the job without further background investigation.
If the new health care reform passes legislation and becomes fully implemented, it might open the doors of opportunity for many more predators hiding behind the preface of a caregiver . . . unless the proper steps are taken with the patient’s vulnerability in mind.

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