Editor’s note: This is part of a series examining the issue of sex offenders living in nursing homes. Check back on our websites this week for more, and pick up Sunday’s Dayton Daily News for a special report.
Scott Russell Cook, 48, is in prison after pleading guilty to rape for the assault of an 85-year-old woman in the northeast Ohio nursing home where they both lived.
Officials at Roselawn Gardens in Alliance said they had no idea Cook previously had attacked a 92-year-old woman at a Cleveland nursing home.
Matt Dapore, COO of Roselawn owner Hillstone Healthcare, said a notation on the state sex offender registry that included details of Cook’s previous crime either wasn’t on his entry when the home checked before admitting him, or they missed it.
Cook pleaded guilty on Oct. 5 and was sentenced to 25 years in prison for the March incident.
Roselawn has since adjusted its policy for checking registrations to include noting the age of previous victims. It also no longer admits sex offenders whose crimes were against those 55 or older.
But an I-Team examination of the 136 nursing home residents on Ohio’s sex offender registry shows it is missing critical information on some offenders, including victim age and the type of crime committed.
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State law requires the public registry to include: name, photo, address, offense, date of conviction, tier or classification, supervision status, address of any school attended or place of employment, and license plate number of any vehicle.
Information about a victim’s age is not required, though that information could be useful to determine whether certain offenders pose a risk to other nursing home residents. Although most of the records list whether a victim was a juvenile, few indicate the age of adult victims.
Most also included little or no information about an offender’s actual crime, and virtually none listed the county where the offender was convicted.
The actual tier designation — I, II, or III — was omitted in 21 of the 136 registrations.
The incomplete registry is one of numerous failures our investigation uncovered in the safety net designed to protect vulnerable nursing home residents from sex offenders increasingly living in those facilities.
Patient advocates worry that this dearth of information keeps nursing homes in the dark about potential threats.
“Facilities need to assess individuals and decide if they can meet their needs before admitting them, and if you don’t have all the information, you can’t make a good, informed decision,” said Robyn Grant, director of public policy and advocacy at the National Consumer Voice for Quality Long-Term Care.
A 2014 state law requires that nursing homes check the registry, notify other patients and their families if a sex offender moves in, and create and share the care plan they’ll use to monitor that person.
No homes have been cited for failure to comply with the notification law, Ohio Department of Health spokeswoman Melanie Amato said.
Responsibility for enforcing sex offender laws and ensuring that offenders provide accurate information to the registry rests with sheriff’s departments.
But nursing homes should do their part, too, said Gene Fischer, Greene County sheriff and past president of the Buckeye Sheriffs’ Association. Fischer said the transient nature of many offenders makes it difficult to track some of them. Instead of relying solely on the registry to determine an offender’s history, nursing homes should conduct their own investigations, he said.
Nursing home advocates acknowledge that’s not happening. Most nursing homes don’t run background checks on incoming patients beyond the required sex offender registry check, said Peter Van Runkle, executive director of the Ohio Health Care Association, a nursing home industry advocate. He said staff likely wouldn’t have time to track down details that aren’t included on the registry.
Critics say the incomplete registry is just part of the problem.
Former state Rep. Courtney Combs, R-Hamilton, said the nursing home lobby has resisted stronger laws, hoping to protect a guaranteed Medicaid payment for qualified residents.
“They know they’re going to get their money, so they don’t care,” he said.
But Van Runkle disputed that homes are profiting off sex offenders.
“Medicaid doesn’t pay us the amount it costs to care for a Medicaid patient,” he said. Those who do accept those patients have a calling to provide care, he said.
Combs said full histories on sex offenders are publicly available: “There’s public record. You can contact your local sheriff.”
Critics of the registry system say even if all required information is listed, it’s still not an accurate reflection of a person’s threat level.
“Listing the crime is often not helpful … the offense does not equal the risk,” said Sandy Rozek, communications director for Reform Sex Offender Laws.
The group believes there is no evidence that public registries and residency restrictions reduce sex crimes.
Lifetime registration in particular is unfairly punishing aging individuals who have served their time and struggle to find quality nursing care because of the stigma, Rozek said.