Elder abuse comes in many forms. However, most people believe that patients are safe at the hands of their nurse. This might be why the story out of Pennsylvania feels so jarring. Ashley Ann Smith, a 30-year-old licensed practical nurse, has been accused of taking photos of at least 17 of her elderly nursing home patients. Some of the images show the residents in various states of undress and in need of immediate private care. One video found on her phone showed a patient undergoing a medical procedure while nude. The complaint filed against Smith states, “The images are explicit and private, and some have the sole purpose to humiliate the patients.”
Not only did she take the photos, but she’s also charged with sending 20 pictures to a former co-worker, who also happens to be the father of her child. This man, Ron Whittaker, turned Smith into hospital leadership sometime last week. At this time, Whittaker hasn’t been charged with any crimes.
If all of this isn’t enough to cause outrage, police also found two pictures of a 2-year-old girl on Smith’s phone that have been called pornographic. So, along with the 30 crimes of invasion of privacy and abuse of care, she’s also facing child pornography charges. Smith was immediately suspended from Kane McKeesport Community Living Center without pay once the photos were discovered. Then, on May 1st, Smith was terminated when local law enforcement notified the long-term care center that the allegations were founded.
In a Pittsburgh Post-Gazette article, Lori Rushe, the daughter of one of the alleged victims stated, “You’re taking advantage of people who don’t know their name, where they’re at or anything” about her father, a 90-year-old man with dementia. Lori told the paper that she noted a new sign on the elevator a couple of weeks ago stating that taking unauthorized pictures of residents was prohibited. She went on to say that she wished the staff had told her the seriousness of the allegations.
Understanding Elder Abuse
While this case seems pretty clear that what happened to the residents at Kane McKeesport Community Living Center is abuse, let’s just review the definition. The National Institute of Aging notes that there five types of abuse:
Emotional Abuse, also called psychological abuse, happens when a caregiver or other person yells, threatens, or repeatedly ignores an older person.
Neglect happens when the older person’s needs aren’t met.
Physical abuse occurs when someone causes bodily harm to the person, such as hitting, pushing, or slapping them.
Abandonment is when an elderly person is left alone without having their needs or care planned or met.
Sexual abuse happens when a caregiver forces an elderly person to be part of any sexual act.
Signs of Abuse
We often think that signs of abuse are only physical and usually visible. However, it’s critical to know that some seniors won’t be able to tell you about the abuse, such as what’s allegedly happened to those at Kane McKeesport. Here are a few things to monitor for if you think there’s been any sort of abuse:
Stops taking part in activities they enjoy
Has unexplained burns, bruises, or other injuries
Has trouble sleeping
Weight loss with no explanation
Rocks back and forth, or shows other signs of trauma
Acts violent or agitated
How Would You Feel?
It’s probably safe to say that if you had a loved one living in this facility, you would be outraged. But, what about if you worked there? Maybe you were even friends with the nurse who’s been charged and didn’t recognize any signs of this heinous crime? How would you feel?
What do you think should happen to Smith? Should she lose her job along with any criminal sentence she receives? Post your comments below. We would love to get your take on the situation.