Abuse In The Nursing Home

Sandra Banning

She loved to cook. Thanksgiving was her favorite.

When her mother developed severe dementia, Sandra Banning was forced to take the painful step of putting her in a nursing home.

"It was like taking your best friend and just saying, 'I'm sorry I have to do this,'" says Banning.

She thought her mother, Virginia Thurston, would be safe at Southwood Nursing Center, until the night she was sexually assaulted by another resident: 83-year-old Ivy Edwards, as CBS News Correspondent Vince Gonzales reports.

"He had taken his wheelchair and lodged it up underneath the door so no one would interrupt him," says Banning.

She had to take her 77-year-old mother to be tested for sexual assault.

"Tears were rolling out of the corners of her eyes," says Banning.

Edwards was sent to the nursing home after he was found wandering the streets. A Florida court declared him a "vulnerable adult ... in need of protective services."

Edwards' criminal file is 13 pages long and includes 59 arrests, including child molestation and sexual assault.

"This is a biography of a monster, and he made my mother one of his victims," says Banning.

Because the family is suing, no one at this Florida nursing home would talk about the case, but this is not an isolated incident. Across the country, nursing homes are taking in convicted sex offenders and violent criminals.

"It's a mix for disaster and that's exactly what we have," says Wes Bledsoe, a nursing home watchdog.

Bledsoe searched records in 37 states and found 380 registered sex offenders living in nursing homes. That doesn't include other felons and older sex offenders, like Edwards, who are not required to register.

"We don't know how big a problem this is, but if there's no locked door between your loved one and that offender down the hall, then it's your problem," says Bledsoe.

Minnesota's Atttorney General Mike Hatch just shut down one nursing home after sex offenders transferred from prisons were caught fondling, beating and sexually assaulting other residents.

"What the hell is going on here? How could you put sex offenders in with vulnerable adults?" says Hatch. "You put them in a locked ward with the women locked in?"

The answer may be money. When prisoners of all ages fill empty nursing home beds, Medicaid or Medicare pays the bill. Florida officials say they didn't know about Edwards' past but add that background checks are not required.

"They needed to do a background check," says Banning. "The detective who investigated the sexual assault of my mother managed to find it out in a matter of an hour."

Thurston has since died, but her daughter is determined to protect others.

"And you can take this to the bank - I'm not going to stop until there is a change," says Banning.