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Cottage industry: Neglect and abuse in adult family homes

This week, Need to Know introduces a new segment. It reflects our commitment to investigate whether or not we’re being let down by those who are supposed to keep us safe and secure. Whether it’s the food industry, or those of energy, health, or our money — we’re keeping track of the consequences of decades of deregulation, of industries left largely to police themselves, but sometimes don’t. Watchdogs who don’t watch out for us. We’re calling the segment “The Watch List.”

This week, we bring you an example of what might fairly be described as an under-regulated industry: elder care. Thanks to legislation and entrepreneurship, senior citizens have more housing options than ever. There are nursing homes, assisted living centers, and the small private residences known as “adult family homes.” But with more choice, it seems there are also more problems. Last year the Seattle Times began investigating incidents of neglect and abuse at adult family homes. In cooperation with the Times we bring you their latest findings — out just this week — along with some information that suggests the problems with adult family homes go way beyond the State of Washington’s borders. Some of the images you’ll see may be upsetting.

Producer: Lucy Kennedy



  • Richardskramer

    Thank you for this story. My relative was a victim of elder abuse in a board and care in California. She was left non responsive to die. She was starved and drugged with dangerous anti psychotics. She had open lesions and severe bruising and died weighing less than 77 lbs. She also died broke. She was under a forced conservatorship/guardianship that made her, a woman of means, a ward of the state– another related scam. She was placed on forced hospice and denied care when she fell and never walked again. She was charged fees for aids when her care was covered under hospice. There needs to be oversight to this terrible non regulated system.

  • Monique

    We need stricter laws to convict those who abuse/neglect this vulnerable population. These licensed smaller group adult homes need to be inspected and monitored on a routine basis. States could add these seniors as a caseload for social workers and nurses for example, who could stop by UNANNOUNCED to check out the home and see and visit with the residents. Family should also be contacted. This is horrible, and reporting abuse after the fact is not going to protect those…………………states need to be proactive on PREVENTION.

  • Careful Placement

    Thank you very much for this story! With more options then ever facing seniors in need it is so important to know what dangers can be lurking out there. There are some excellent Adult Family Homes in Washington but sadly also some really terrible ones. Hopefully with exposure like this there will be more protocol put into place (legislation, new licensees laws that are more strict, more enforcement, etc) to avoid cases such as these. In the mean time it’s great that the consumer can be more cautious in placing their loved ones perhaps seeking out the advice of industry professionals before they do.

  • Donmajors

    If it can happen to Mickey Rooney and it has happened to me…it can happen to you or your or friends. Please learn and report signs of elder abuse, It effects the old and the disabled i”vulnerable adults in our society. It can occur in nursing homes, in hospitals, In my case a Veterans Hospital) medial clinics even a persons own home. I have and continue to experience months of gross medical negligence by the veteans hospital, I have recieved armed threats as has a witness. The states Adult Protective Services (DSHS) did nothing for months. Law enforcement refused to accept complaint of armed abuse in Oct 2010 until march of 2011 still I remainin danger with nowhere to turn but to hoping I can find a lawyer to take the case agains the them it is not just the abuse that hurts, but the fact that police and DSHS do nothing despite responsibility to make it stop. a veteran never affraid of anything hides in his home terrorized fear for his life.

  • Donmajors

    The State of Washington, Department of Social and Health Services placed Eric Busch, along with two other men with severe developmental disabilities, in the same state-licensed facility. Despite receiving repeated warnings that these men were being abused and neglected, DSHS did nothing. For several months, the men continued to endure inhumane conditions and profound abuse. When they were eventually rescued, an investigator from the Office of the Attorney General concluded that the men had been burned with cigarettes, handcuffed, beaten, and raped on countless occasions. Instead of accepting responsibility for its role in this tragedy, DSHS buried its head in the sand-even blamed the developmentally disabled men for their own injuries and suggested that the victims were fabricating the abuse.

    UPDATE REQARDING DSHS-APS DSHS is still at it this type of negligence continues:

    As of today, despite multiple reports of abuse from witness and myself, armed threats agaisnt me remains uninvestigated and unprosecuted leaving a vulnerable adult with attendant that must use a powerchair for mobility in danger and in on going fear for his life. Despite directives to report the veterans affairs in spokane wa has not reported my abuse as required by law. DSHS referals to policed remain unassigned for investigation. No action has been taken to protect, provide counseling, legal assistance, or appropriate medical care for me. Will this abuse ever end???
    I feel simular to a rape victim why report it when polic dont help and talling your story make shame, fear, and tears return!


    There should be an agency that goes under cover into these Senior housing places and checks to see whats going on with them. There are good people working at some of these places, but their are some not so good. They need more formal training…All seniors should be treated with respect..i guess when you get older they think you dont know what your talking about. The Seniors need some one to represent THEM, not the rehab centers, nursing homes, hospitals, or whatever…just the seniors. Also all people that work in these places should have background checks, and any criminal backgrounds, etc, should not be allowed to work with Seniors…Seniors are helpless…They cannot fight back for them selves…SOMEONE, must stand up for seniors..
    and make sure..they are not just overmedicated with their food stuck in front of them..and no one helping them with their meals…There is NO need to knock a senior out with medication…If it is daytime and they are sitting there and they are not awake..most likely they gave that patient something…This should be NOT ALLOWED. If seniors dont eat regularly…they forget how, soon they stop eating..and then its down hill from there….THIS IS WRONG.

  • Thomas Taylor-Brown

    Did this son really think the care his mother was getting from a “caregiver”, that was probably making $8.00 to 10.00 dollars an hr., was going to provide professional medical oversight? This guy should have been prosecuted for neglect and abuse for not paying closer attention to his mothers physical condition when placing her in that type of facility.

  • Lawrence Shotland

    Excellent story – this is why it’s good that you are on the job!
    Please keep up this type of story!

  • taylor

    Thank you for your candid report. While this is all true, as was stated there are some homes that are very loving and attentive to your loved one. This is a phenomena, residential homes, that is spreading all over the country. It certainly is a better choice than the nursing homes or large assisted living communities. It is important that the families or the state that is placing these individuals are doing their part of investigation and not placing out of desperation. Have a comparison of homes and if there are those that have a strong medical background, would certainly be worth considering. If you see anything that concerns you, change of behavior of your loved one, limited visiting hours, unwilling to allow agencies such as home health or hospice in the home, is for sure a RED FLAG! While this is a great choice, we must do our part to keep these homes honest and safe. The state is doing their part but it is difficult to know who out there is a potential abuser or neglecter. We all must keep our eyes and ears open!


  • Sandra

    I would challenge the statement that the state is doing its part. The licensing agency in the Department of Socia and Health Services is not enforcing the existing laws or acting on serious complaints. I do agree that the family of a senior needs to do their part to stay involved. I had to move my 91 year old mother from an assisted living facility due to its negligence from incompetent administration. I called the local ombudsman and their director told me that this facility has had more complaints than any other in the area. They were frustrated because they couldn’t get the licensing agency to act. When I was contacted by a licensing evaluator, she said that they would continue to try to get the facility to remedy its deficiencies. I wonder how many complaints it takes, maybe the death of a resident! She also told me that I was the only family member to had come forward to give specific information. I have documented evidence of the facilities failture to give out the correct medications.

  • Sandra

    I agree with Carol that familities to to be advocates to protect their aging relatives. One issue that the program didn’t raise is the Medical rule that will only pay for a nursing facility whether or not this is the appropriate placement. My mother has almost spent down all her funds after 7 years. Her main problem is vascular dementia. She is still mobile and needs the kind of supervised care offered by “memory units” that are alarmed so patients can’t wander. Many are part of the resident care facility. Although more expensive than regular assisted living, they are still less than a nursing facility. We will be forced to place my mother in a nursing home that will end up costing the state of California much more than a residential care facility. So, the practice in Seattle of allowing Medical recipients to live in residential care has the right intent, but clearly these small facilities need more rigorous oversight. The federal govement has a role here to see that state agency enforce the existing laws. Given that we are an aging population due all the baby boomers, we are all in the same boat here!

  • von gibson

    This is a sad story but, this is the exception rather than the rule. Traditional nursing homes have licensed nurses but, they are way overwhelmed by the number of residents they have to look after. While this video has good information, it is very biased against adult family homes with negative stories of mistreatment. I personally know of many content seniors living their golden years happily in adult family homes and who have benefited from it.