Investigators have verified 14 cases of abuse by a nightshift nurse who told police he abused nearly 100 patients at health care centers since the 1980s, authorities said Thursday.
John Riems, 49, was arrested last week and has been charged with raping a partially paralyzed nursing home patient. That case sparked the investigation and emerged when a relative of the patient became suspicious and called police.
Some of the 14 victims were physically or mentally unable to tell others what had happened, said Perkins Township Police Chief Tim McClung. He said that the victims included men and women, mostly older, and that two have died.
Riems has worked at 12 nursing homes and hospitals in northern Ohio and one care center in New York. Authorities said he told police the pattern of abuse began shortly after he began his career in 1985.
Riems has been charged in only one case. Authorities would not say whether the other allegations are sexual in nature, but said Riems was able to recall specific information in only about two dozen cases. Their investigation is continuing.
“This is a large and complicated case,” said Lloyd Early, an investigator with the Ohio attorney general’s office. “It’s hard to say how big this will become.”
Riems pleaded not guilty to rape and gross sexual imposition last week. He appeared in Sandusky Municipal Court on Thursday and was bound over to Erie County Common Pleas court, where his case is likely to presented to a grand jury in the coming weeks.
His attorney, Troy Wisehart, would not say whether Riems had admitted anything to him. He said the man’s family is shocked.
“We’re just hoping the general public doesn’t jump to conclusions,” Wisehart said.
Riems is accused of assaulting a partially paralyzed 55-year-old man at Concord Care and Rehabilitation Center in Sandusky. Perkins Township police Detective Alan Jenkins testified that the patient can communicate only by shaking his head or moving his hand.
Police have not said when the alleged assault happened, but Jenkins said Riems admitted during a Jan. 19 interview that he had touched the man in a sexual manner and that he did it for his own sexual gratification.
McClung, the police chief, would not provide specifics of 13 other alleged assaults he said were confirmed through interviews with patients, family members and a review of nursing home records.
Riems was being held in the Erie County jail on $100,000 bond. Erie County Prosecutor Kevin Baxter said his office would determine whether other charges would be filed once the investigation is complete.
Riems had worked at Concord since 2002.
Concord officials issued a statement last week saying that they were “as shocked as anyone by the actions of Mr. Riems,” and that he had been fired. They have otherwise declined to comment.
Investigators from the Ohio Department of Health have been investigating complaints against Concord that include allegations of resident abuse.
Riems worked at Fremont Memorial Hospital, about 20 miles southwest of Sandusky, for three months in 1985 and left before finishing his orientation period.
Spokeswoman Linda Thiel declined to comment on why he left, citing confidentiality. There were no complaints listed on his personnel file, she said.
Riems has the longest history at Elyria United Methodist Village, about 30 miles east of Sandusky, where he worked intermittently for nearly 20 years.
“We had no evidence or reports of any inappropriate behavior whatsoever,” said Pam Koutsaftis, the facility’s vice president of marketing. “(Riems) was a nursing supervisor, and that position is one where he would have minimal direct patient care or contact.”