Lawmaker promises fix after KXAN uncovers flawed elder abuse investigation

AUSTIN (KXAN) – A Texas lawmaker saw our investigation that exposed alleged sexual assaults at an Austin assisted living center and the state’s admitted failure in investigating the incidents. He now guarantees action to help better protect your aging loved ones.

Also because of our investigation the Texas Department of Aging and Disability Services finally reported the incidents to the Travis County Sheriff’s Office. That report comes more than two years after the incidents and the day after our investigation first aired on May 19th.

“I think that’s a major failure,” said State Representative Elliott Naishtat.

Representative Naishtat, who is the vice-chairman of the House Public Health Committee, said he never again wants to find out the state did not do its job investigating allegations of elderly abuse.

“This is something which I will be working with DADS, the Department of Aging and Disability Services, and the commission (Texas Health and Human Services Commission) to make sure that they know this is unacceptable,” said Representative Naishtat, who was appalled by what KXAN uncovered.

Our investigation uncovered a lawsuit alleging an elderly woman was sexually assaulted by a male resident at Longhorn Village, which was established by the University of Texas alumni association, Texas Exes. According to the lawsuit, filed by the woman’s legal guardian and her family, there is no way legally she could have consensual sex because a doctor determined she suffers from Alzheimer’s disease and dementia so severely that she could no longer make decisions for herself. A judge agreed and ruled the woman “incapacitated,” and appointed a legal guardian to handle her affairs and make decisions for her.

Longhorn Village’s current director admitted in a court hearing in a related lawsuit that the guardianship order was in the woman’s medical file. But the director of healthcare services for Longhorn Village at the time of the alleged assaults said in a court deposition he was unaware of the guardianship order and he did not review her medical file.

The state only investigated after a former nurse at Longhorn Village reported the allegations to DADS, allegedly after Longhorn Village management tried to keep staff quiet about the incidents. In the related lawsuit that nurse claims she was fired from Longhorn Village for reporting the incidents to DADS. Longhorn Village settled that lawsuit, and another filed by another former employee.

The DADS investigator determined the nurse’s complaint “unsubstantiated.” But DADS admitted to KXAN its investigation was a ‘failure’ because the investigator did not look for a guardianship order and did not report the incidents to law enforcement, as required by law.

“According to the investigation report, our investigator did not know there was a guardianship in place,” said DADS spokesperson Cecilia Cavuto. “And why was that?” asked KXAN Investigator Brian Collister. “I don’t know,” replied Cavuto. “We can’t answer that because we don’t have any information,” she continued.

In response to our story, DADS reopened its investigation and also promised to review all complaints of neglect and abuse in assisted living centers it has determined “unsubstantiated” over the last two years.

While agency officials try to figure out what happened and if there are other failed investigations, Representative Naishtat says he’ll take action now to close a glaring loophole in the law.

“Do you think guardianship orders should be required to be in a medical file and that should be required to be viewed?” asked Collister. “I do without question,” replied Representative Naishtat, who practices guardianship law as an attorney. He says these vital records should be the first thing state investigators see when investigating abuse and neglect.

“The rules don’t specifically require a nursing home or assisted living facility to have a copy of the guardianship order in the file,” said Naishtat. “This will be changed either through the rule making process or legislation that I will introduce,” he continued.

In response to Naishtat’s promise, The Texas Health and Human Service Commission, which oversees DADS, sent KXAN a statement today which reads:

“We look forward to working with the Legislature and the Sunset Commission to strengthen the regulation of our state’s long-term care facilities. We’re also closely reviewing how this case was handled to see why the complaint wasn’t referred to law enforcement as required by state law. It’s critical that we have processes in place to ensure the safety of people in these facilities.”

KXAN will keep following this story and keep you updated on the state’s investigation and Representative Naishtat’s efforts.

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