Missouri senior citizens fall through cracks in reporting law

SALINE COUNTY, Mo. -- Maribeth Russell is angry.

She and her family trusted a Mid-Missouri nursing home to take care of her 93-year-old relative.

"Loved her family, she was just a jewel," she remembers.

But when she and her husband got the call that Martha (not her real name) was on her way to a hospital back in 2010, that secure world was shattered.

She was described as "disoriented" and in "obvious pain' with "significant bruising on her arms," according to legal documents obtained by the Fox 4 Problem Solvers.

In the emergency room, it got worse. A physician examining her found evidence of sexual assault.

"We were devastated," Russell recalls.

Within a day, their 93-year-old loved one turned worse and died. They believe, of a broken heart.

Sadness turned to anger when the family realized, while the state agency overseeing senior care centers had been notified, law enforcement had not. By the time police were notified, Martha's body had been embalmed, and detectives said it was too late to gather evidence. The assailant would likely never face judgment.

"It could have been someone who lives there, but we'll never know."

Eventually, Maribeth's grief turned to anger. She learned that under Missouri law, there is no mandated reporting requirement to law enforcement. Only to the State of Missouri. Federal law does require reporting to police or other law enforcement for centers receiving federal dollars, but a recent audit revealed nearly a third of those eligible cases are still not reported based on reviews of case files in 33 states.

That news came as a surprise to Saline County Sheriff Cindi Mullins. She was not aware mandatory law enforcement reporting is not in the Missouri law.

When the Fox 4 Problem Solvers alerted her to a case in her own county, Sheriff Mullins said her office was never contacted.

"I think it's important to do because these folks can't protect themselves," she says. "And that's what law enforcement is for."

Jefferson City Tim Van Ronzelen, who handles a number of senior care cases, says he thinks these types of sexual assault cases are under reported. He worries facilities are reluctant to turn themselves in, "I think the vast majority are going to not believe that happened. Are going to find other possible excuses, other reasons (for the allegations)."

Maribeth is channeling her frustration by taking action. During the past several sessions, she's pushed for an amendment to the law to require law enforcement be notified. Each session, the clock has run out on passage.

This year, a bill will be reintroduced in the Senate, and because of our inquiries, a companion bill will also be introduced in the House.

Maribeth plans to continue lobbying lawmakers, and hopes this is the year.

"It's too late for my loved one, but something needs to be done for cases down the road."

WEB EXTRAS:

Link to SB 301 Summary (2017) that died in Senate

View inspection reports for Missouri Long Term Care Facilities

Health inspection reports for Medicare and Medicaid facilities

MARC Aging and Adult Services

MISSOURI SPONSORS OF UPCOMING LEGISLATIVE SESSION BILL:

Sen. Wayne Wallingford (R) District 27

Rep. Stacey Newman (D) District 87