Missouri woman grateful after lawmakers change abuse reporting requirements for nursing homes

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. -- With time running out, Missouri lawmakers added a mandatory reporting requirement for long-term care facilities Friday.

Under H.B. 1635, nursing and other group homes must report sexual assaults to law enforcement. Current law only required reporting to the state agencies involved.

The news was just what Maribeth Russell had hoped to hear but was fearing she might not, again.

“She is smiling down now,” said Russell, who has asked us not to reveal the name of her relative whom FOX4 profiled in our investigation last November.

Read the full Fox 4 nursing home investigation here.

Margaret (not her real name) was raped in her mid-Missouri nursing home and died one day later. The facility notified the state but mistakenly thought the Russell family had called police. In fact, the family believed the home had called police, too.

By the time they were notified, detectives said the evidence was no good and no one was ever arrested in the death of the 93 -year-old woman.

Ever since, Russell has been fighting for the change in the law to require law enforcement reporting.

“It could have been someone who lived there, but we’ll never know.” Russell told FOX4 last fall.

She and her family are not alone in their relief.

“We applaud the Missouri legislature for passing this critical piece of legislation that will provide important protections to long-term care residents,” said Lynn Faunda Donovan, executive director of VOYCE, a long-term care ombudsman program for 21 Missouri counties.

In a statement, the group noted that between 1995 and 2016, there were 128 known cases of elder sexual abuse and assault with only 20 ending in convictions.

VOYCE and Russell believe mandatory reporting will help law enforcement investigate cases before they go cold.

Russell and some lawmakers credit FOX4's investigation for helping bring fresh light to the issue. She said the story was mentioned Friday in a final round of floor discussion.

Supporters say Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens is expected to sign the measure, ending years of frustration for Russell and others who care about their elderly loved ones.

Previous coverage: