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How USA TODAY Network reported on resident-on-resident harm in senior living facilities

In the summer of 2021, Arizona Republic investigative reporter Caitlin McGlade found out that Joann Thompson had been severely beaten by another resident at Bethesda Gardens Assisted Living facility in Phoenix.

Most reporters would have written Joann’s story right then, and it would have been compelling.

But McGlade had been covering the senior living industry since the early days of the pandemic, and she wondered whether the assault at Bethesda Gardens was a solitary event or if there was something more widespread going on.

She had just finished a series of stories about how Granite Creek Health and Rehabilitation Center in Prescott had hired a man with a felony conviction on his record to run the facility, how he forced employees to continue to work even though they were sick with COVID-19, and how 15 residents died.

McGlade knew that both of the organizations charged with regulating nursing homes and assisted living facilities, the Arizona Department of Health Services and the Arizona Board of Nursing Care Institution Administrators and Assisted Living Facility Managers, had been criticized in audits for not doing enough to protect seniors.

So she decided to dig into the subject of resident-on-resident harm to find out how often residents were hurting each other.

Her first calls were to plaintiff attorneys who confirmed that the issue was an important one and not well-known outside of families whose loved ones had been injured.

She then asked the Arizona Department of Health Services if facilities like Bethesda Gardens have to report assaults to the state. As it turns out, Arizona law does not require assisted living facilities to report all resident injuries to the health department.

The next step was to review stories written by newspapers across the country. There were a few notable articles, including a standout series in the Minneapolis Star Tribune.

It was through that research that McGlade came across Eilon Caspi, a researcher based at the University of Connecticut, who wrote a book about conditions that lead residents to hurt one another.

Caspi told McGlade that the problem was widespread, that it was generally caused by neglect in the facilities, that the industry viewed seniors hurting each other as inevitable and had taken to labeling them as “aggressive.”

'Fighting for Dignity': Watch Caspi's documentary on this topic