85-Year-Old Nursing Home Resident With Dementia Elopes, Found Outside By Employee Arriving for Work

An 85-year-old woman died three days after she was found outside a nursing home on a day when the low temperature was 23 degrees. Records do not say what time she fell or how long she was outside before she was found. It was dry that day, with a low of 23 and a high of 40 degrees, according to the National Weather Service.

An attorney for the resident's family says she was found at about 6 p.m. after being outside for about 30 minutes. She was brought inside, taken to the hospital where she was treated for an eye injury and then moved to a different facility where she died three days later. She suffered from advanced dementia and stayed in a locked unit. It is unknown how she escaped.

An attorney for the family said the resident was found by an employee of the nursing home who was being dropped off for work. He said an alarm was set off when the resident walked out of the facility into a courtyard. From there, she opened a gated area and was found sitting on the ground outside the nursing home, he said.

In describing the eye injury, he said, “She was hurt badly.” “She was essentially healthy (before this),” he said.

The nursing home had been given a five-star rating by the Centers of Medicare & Medicaid Services, the highest possible rating in its new online-rating system. It offers specialized care for residents with dementia and Alzheimer’s. For more, please read the story.

A mobile, dependent, cognitively impaired patient should never be permitted to wander or elope undetected and unsupervised. A nursing home or assisted living facility must recognize the risk of wandering or eloping and take immediate steps to ensure the patient’s safety. Staff should be educated and warned about the patient’s risk of wandering or eloping. The nursing home or assisted living facility should also use electronic alarms that will notify staff immediately when the patient leaves the facility or a safe area in or around the facility.

Elopement occurs when a patient who lacks safety awareness leaves a nursing home or assisted living facility or a safe area within or outside the facility without the knowledge of the facility’s staff and without proper supervision. A patient who elopes is at risk of heat or cold exposure, dehydration, drowning, getting struck by a motor vehicle, and falling. Facility policies should clearly define the procedures for monitoring and managing patients at risk for elopement and otherwise minimize the risk that a patient will leave the facility or a safe area without authorization or appropriate supervision. In addition, the patient’s care plan should address the potential for elopement. A nursing home or assisted living facility’s disaster and emergency preparedness plan should include a plan to locate a missing patient who has eloped.

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Robert W. Carter, Jr. is a Virginia attorney whose law practice is dedicated to protecting the rights of the victims of nursing home and assisted living neglect and abuse in Richmond, Roanoke, Norfolk, Lynchburg, Danville, Charlottesville, and across Virginia.

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