Elopement, often used interchangeably with wandering, is a serious problem in nursing homes. It occurs when a dependent resident in a licensed facility leaves that facility without staff knowledge or observation of their departure.
Safe vs. Unsafe Wandering
Wandering can be a safe and healthy behavior for many nursing home residents. This is especially the case when wandering simply reflects a need for exercise, activity, or to relieve stress. We all know that being active has a positive impact on our physical, mental, and emotional well-being. Accordingly, this behavior should be encouraged when it can be done safely. Oppositely, when wandering causes, or is likely to cause, harm to the resident or other residents, it becomes an unsafe behavior that must be addressed. For both unsafe wandering within the facility, and eloping from the nursing home, responsibility rests with the nursing home.
Certain diagnoses are indicative of an elevated risk of elopement: Alzheimer’s Disease, Dementia, Bipolar Disorder, and Schizophrenia. Even a history of wandering is a reliable indicator of risk.
Kingman, AZ – A 77-year-old man with dementia has been missing for more than two weeks. Friends have not seen the man since April 1, and northwest Arizona authorities are doing all they can to locate him.
Cocoa Beach, FL – A resident wandered away from a nursing home, fell in a drainage ditch and drowned.
Mobile, AL – After wandering away from a personal care facility, a resident fell into a watery construction pit and drowned in the mud.
Quakertown, PA – An Alzheimer’s patient wandered away from a facility and drowned in a nearby creek.
Montgomery, AL – An assisted living resident smashed a window, crawled out of his room and wandering across a parking lot into a field. He subsequently collapsed and died in freezing temperatures.
In addition to identifying risk factors that predispose a resident to elopement, supervision is an absolute must. Indeed, it is a core responsibility of facility staff. Conducting periodic checks and documenting wandering behaviors are essential to any supervision regimen. For Alzheimer’s patients, a secured unit is wise.
Courts have been very harsh in decisions where facilities are judged to have been negligent in their duty to provide a safe environment. According to Briggs Corp., ten percent of all lawsuits involving nursing homes deal with elopements. In addition to drowning and exposure to extreme heat or cold, elopement-related deaths commonly involve being struck by a vehicle. Tragically, in eighty percent of cases, the resident was known to be a wanderer with prior elopements.
Elopement is a tremendous source of grief and anguish when it results in the injury or death of a loved one. If you believe that you or a loved one has been the victim of negligence, you may have a claim. Please feel free to contact an experienced attorney at Levin & Perconti today.