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Editorial: Firmer measures needed to prevent abuse of disabled at nursing care homes

Nursing care homes for the disabled, as well as their government regulators, have come under mounting pressure to step up efforts to prevent staffers' abuse of patients amid an increase in such cases.

    According to the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry, 3,198 disabled people were subjected to abuse in fiscal 2016. At workplaces and homes, the numbers of confirmed cases and victims of abuse declined from the previous year. At care homes, however, 672 people were abused by staffers in 401 confirmed cases. The figure was up nearly 20 percent from a year earlier and marked a new high for the fourth consecutive year.

    A growing number of facilities have conducted training for employees and worked out guidelines aimed at preventing such abuse. However, abuse by managers who are supposed to supervise employees at care facilities accounted for 8 percent of all cases of abuse by staffers against disabled people in that year, hinting at the possibility that abuse is rampant at some facilities.

    There have been vicious cases in which facility operators have covered up evidence of abuse or demanded a massive amount of compensation from employees who report abuse in a bid to silence such workers. Nearly 70 percent of the abused victims in these cases are intellectually disabled people. In many of these cases, workers use violence against or physically restrain those who have behavioral disorders including afflictions triggering self-injury, attacks on others or panic attacks.

    In the past, physical punishment was rampant at many care facilities for disabled patients, and those who could overpower disabled people by force tended to have influence in such facilities. The families of many victims chose not to report such incidents to authorities, fearing that they would not be able to find other facilities that would accept the victims.

    However, the situation began to change in the latter half of the 1990s when abuse of disabled people emerged as a major social issue, sparking calls for the protection of the rights of these people.

    It has been proven at various facilities that behavioral disorders can be improved if the patients' environments are changed to suit their disabilities and assistance is extended to them through communication. Experts have also found out that violent physical restraint rather worsens patients' behavioral disorders. The national government has stepped up efforts to train facility staff members to alleviate patients' behavioral disorders.

    Nevertheless, quite a few facilities for the disabled still use violence against or physically restrain patients with such disorders. And it is thought that the confirmed abuse cases are just the tip of the iceberg.

    There are many cases in which staffers trigger patients' behavioral disorders and violently overpower or physically restrain them because they do not know how to deal with these people. Such unreasonable approaches are being repeated at many care homes subsidized by authorities.

    Still, local governments' preparedness for investigations into abuse of disabled people at care homes is inadequate, and the instructions that local bodies issue to these facilities to prevent abuse are not strict enough. The central and local governments should be aware of the seriousness of the situation and deal strictly with abusive facilities and staffers.

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