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Lawsuit: Cashmere nursing home failed to halt sexual abuse

Wenatchee World, The (WA) - 6/18/2015

June 17--WENATCHEE -- A Cashmere nursing home where a male resident sexually abused three women with dementia is being sued by the estate of one of his victims.

The case, filed Wednesday in Chelan County Superior Court, accuses Cashmere Convalescent Center of neglect, fraud, and failure to protect its clients from sexual assault. It follows a state Department of Health and Human Services investigation in February that fined the nursing home $6,500 for not intervening or reporting the abuse.

Texas attorney John B. Thomas, representing the estate of late patient Christine Trowbridge, called the suit "a very important case for the community as a whole."

"That's a tremendous responsibility somebody undertakes to care for a family member, and you rely and trust them to keep them safe," said Thomas, whose Houston firm Hicks Thomas was retained by Trowbridge's family. "And when they don't, that's a tremendous violation of trust, and it should concern all of us who might have family members in the same circumstances -- or, heaven forbid, ourselves, when we get older."

Trowbridge, 55, was admitted to Cashmere Convalescent's dementia care ward in 2013, living with paralysis and unable to walk. Her sister Lynda Rae Freeman, 59, of Burlington, held power of attorney over Trowbridge's affairs.

In January, nursing home staff twice found a male ward resident in Trowbridge's room, conducting or preparing to initiate sexual contact, according to the DSHS report. In the first instance, the man held Trowbridge's hand and guided it to manipulate his genitals. In the second, Trowbridge told the licensed practical nurse who entered the room, "He was sexually abusing me."

Employees stopped the contact both times, but neither instance was reported to state health investigators as required by law. Trowbridge later expressed fear to nursing home staff, saying she did not want the man in her room again. He was discovered in Trowbridge's room a third time in January, and she yelled at him to "stay away." No sexual behavior was noted.

Interviewed in February by DSHS investigators, Trowbridge told them, "They let him play with me. I didn't like it."

The male resident, not identified in the lawsuit or report, suffered dementia as a result of alcoholism. He exhibited highly sexual behavior toward female residents beginning in January -- seizing one woman's hands and pulling them toward his groin, making sexual invitations, and urging women to come to his room.

The facility's director of nursing services told investigators she "asked him to stop the inappropriate sexual behaviors, and he told her he could not promise to do that."

He was found in his own room at one point with a second female resident who was fondling his genitals. The woman could not answer when asked if the contact was consensual. Again, the behavior was not reported to outside authorities. Finally, a nursing assistant found the man fondling a third female resident in the nursing home dining room Feb. 2. That incident was reported and led to the state investigation.

The nursing director told DSHS she did not report the earlier sexual contacts involving Trowbridge and the second victim "because she thought the behaviors were consensual" and the male resident had "a right to pursue intimacy." However, the state found the victims' abilities to consent to sexual activity were never assessed. By not recognizing the early incidents as sexual abuse, Cashmere Convalescent Center left other female residents vulnerable, the report says.

The man was transferred out of Cashmere Convalescent Center. Trowbridge suffered depression and suicidal thoughts after the incidents, and lost 10 pounds from lack of appetite, according to the lawsuit. She was hospitalized May 11 with pneumonia and respiratory failure, and died three days later.

Cashmere Convalescent, 817 Pioneer Ave., is owned by a family corporation headed by William A. Dronen. The lawsuit seeks damages but does not specify a dollar amount. No hearing has been scheduled for the case.

Reach Jefferson Robbins at 509-664-7123 or robbins@wenatcheeworld.com. Follow him on Twitter at @JRobbinsWW.

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(c)2015 The Wenatchee World (Wenatchee, Wash.)

Visit The Wenatchee World (Wenatchee, Wash.) at www.wenatcheeworld.com

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