You Could Go Mad Thinking About the Ones Who Got Away With It

We often hear of people suing hospitals for surgical instruments left inside them; for needless, damaging infections gotten in sloppy hospitals, and so on. But probably most severe cases of hospital neglect, sloppiness, and lethal incompetence go unreported. “Your father died of a heart attack during the operation. At his age, it was a risk.” The family member usually nods and walks away, assuming they’re being told the truth. In fact, a little probing might well reveal that dad died because someone made a mistake they have no excuse for.

How often do they get away with it?

I’m thinking about cases where people knew who was responsible and somehow the responsible party got away with it–or cases were there was plenty of reason to assume misdeeds, yet no one bothered to investigate.

The New York Times: “For years, the Office for People With Developmental Disabilities, a [New York] state agency that runs more than 1,000 group homes and regulates thousands more, has almost entirely policed itself and resisted disclosure. Likewise, some police agencies have been reluctant to investigate allegations of abuse in such facilities, often involving individuals who cannot even speak.”

There was vast resistance to accountability built into that system. How much criminal neglect and abuse will never come to light?

My mother in law was in a nursing home in southern California when her wedding ring disappeared. She said someone took it off her finger, saying they were going to wash it. They assumed, of course,that she wouldn’t remember. But she did. They stole the ring–and I wrote to the nursing home about it. They responded that they had no way to be sure who did it or to confirm it had been done at all, and so on. I wrote to state agencies about it. But whoever did it probably still works there, is still stealing from helpless elderly people.

When I was a boy, one of my elderly aunts was placed in a nursing home. She had lost some of her ability to control her muscles so they put a strap on her to keep her in a wheel chair. Then they ignored her. Because of her condition, she slipped down in the wheel chair and was slowly strangled to death by the strap. Just an unfortunate accident, they said. No one was even fired for that.

How often does it happen, in our society? How far does it extend?

And of course in other public arenas, we have other kinds of unprosecuted crimes; we have criminality by people like the Koch Brothers, for example, guilty of illegally infringing the voting process, and committing countless other crimes: both crimes that can be legally prosecuted, and ethical crimes. They seem to get away with all of it.

And what did they get away with that we never heard about?

You’ll run mad, if you think about it too long.

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