Loophole in law allows nursing home sex offenders to go undetected

Homes not required to notify residents

By Charlie Specht
John Moore/Getty Images

Charles Mitchell -- who was convicted of raping someone at knifepoint 30 years ago -- moved to Newfane Rehabilitation and Health Care center in January, WKBW-TV reported.

But it wasn't until 10:45 a.m. Thursday that the state alerted the Newfane community in Buffalo, New York, that the Level 3 sex offender lived there.

WKBW tried to ask Newfane Rehab administrator Craig Shaffer why residents weren't notified until Thursday, but he did not return a message left for comment.

According to state law, the nursing home doesn't have to tell residents, their families -- anyone -- about Mitchell's criminal past.

Even the State Health Department acknowledges nursing homes in New York are not required by law to notify residents that the man or woman in the next room is a sex offender.

A similar issue with a sex offender happened two years ago at the Waterfront Center nursing home in downtown Buffalo, when Thomas Moore -- a sex offender -- allegedly sexually assaulted a woman at the nursing home.

So why are these men allowed to live at nursing homes in the first place?

Because, according to experts, even sex offenders have rights.

“We as a society cannot impose a heavier burden upon this person and say, ‘Well, even though the court system released them into the community, we don't want them in our community,’” said Florina Altshiler, a Buffalo attorney.

Residents -- even those who are elderly or without access to computers -- must take the initiative to look up that information on their own. Altshiler said nursing home officials could face civil lawsuits for not doing more to protect residents.

“The question will hinge on what notice - if any - did that nursing home have, and what action - if any - did they take upon receiving that notice?” she said.

That doesn't sit well with State Assemblyman Patrick Burke of South Buffalo.

“People have a difficult decision to make when they're placing a loved one in a nursing home, and they should have that information available, too,” Burke said. “So not just the residents who may have to live with the sex offender, but also those who are a part of making that decision for their loved one.”

 

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