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A tragic episode took pace in Goldsboro, North Carolina and was recently brought to light by the family of a 72-year-old man who suffered horrific abuse at the hands of his caregivers at a skilled nursing facility for people with profound developmental disabilities.

Though the man had spent most of his life in the care of family and friends, his development of seizures prompted his doctors to urge his family to place him in the O’Berry Neuro-Medical Treatment Center in Goldsboro, NC. Rather than help the man, the facility was where he was physically abused, beaten and possibly even sexually assaulted.

The man lost a significant amount of brain function as a child when he came down with polio and a severe case of pneumonia. Beyond the mental deficiencies, he has several significant physical limitations. The 72-year-old was placed in the O’Berry facility after doctors had trouble controlling his seizures with medication. Once there, his niece noticed horrible bruises on her uncle, including one shaped like the sole of a shoe across her uncle’s pelvic region. The man told his niece that a male staff member had pushed his head into a wall and kicked him in the groin. While the staff member never admitted to kicking his patient, he did say that he had to “tussle” with him.

The niece also found disturbing bruises on her uncle’s buttocks which prompted him to recount stories of a male staff member getting into his bed late at night and occasionally beating him with a belt. He said the same staff member got into his roommate’s bed too, another man with a mental handicap. O’Berry investigated the claim but was never able to find definitive proof of sexual assault.

Tragically, this is not the only instance of patients suffering abuse at the hands of caretakers. There are thousands of North Carolinians in similar nursing facilities across the state. These people are often some of the most vulnerable patients to abuse given their debilitated condition and weakened mental state. In 2012 alone, the O’Berry Center and two other similar state facilities were named in 41 separate cases of nursing home abuse or neglect investigated by the state Department of Health and Human Services.

Rather than result in a sweeping overhaul, little happens as a result of such horrifying complaints. Most staff members found responsible are fired or transferred, but criminal charges are rarely ever pursued. For instance, the man identified as the attendant who kicked the 72-year-old was fired, though never charged in connection with his abuse. The problem, according to many in the industry, is that the patients are viewed by law enforcement as unreliable witnesses and, given that, the cases are dropped due to a lack of rock-solid evidence.

The abuse was so traumatic that the man’s niece has filed suit against the state of North Carolina for the abuse her uncle suffered at the hands of his supposed caretakers. She hopes the suit will compensate her uncle for the terrible pain he endured as well as send a message to other facilities in North Carolina so that other families do not have to worry about placing their relatives in similar danger.

About the Editors: The Shapiro, Lewis & Appleton & Favaloro personal injury law firm, which has offices in Virginia (VA) and North Carolina (NC), edits the injury law blogs Virginia Beach Injuryboard, Norfolk Injuryboard and Northeast North Carolina Injuryboard as pro bono services.

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