87-Year-Old Dementia Patient Escapes Lock-Down Unit at Nursing Home, Killed by Hit-And-Run Driver

An 87-year-old woman was struck and killed by a hit-and-run driver after escaping from a nursing home undetected. Her family plans to sue the nursing home.

The resident's daughter said her mother was moved into the nursing home earlier this month because it had a secure, locked-down ward. Her mother was in the beginning stages of dementia and had a history of running away from care centers, she said.

“That was my overriding, number one concern right from the get-go, that they would take her on in a locked unit,” she said. “We didn’t want it to be a prison, of course. We just wanted her to be safe.”

The resident had been living in an apartment alone, but her family convinced her to move to the nursing home after it became clear she could not care for herself.

The daughter said that the nursing home was made well aware that her mother had a history of escaping. She had done it once before from another nursing home that was not a secure facility and walked several miles to a friend’s house.

Police say the resident disabled an alarm on a sliding glass door in her room before making the trek up a long driveway from the nursing home to the road.

She was spotted by passersby lying near the north side of the road about 100 feet west of the nursing home about 8:20 p.m. She was taken to the hospital where she died the next day. No one has come forward yet with information about the vehicle that struck her.For more about this, read the story.

This case is especially shocking given the nursing home's notice that the resident was prone to wander. The fact that she was able to disable an alarm and leave the home undetected can only mean that the alarm was not an adequate safeguard against wandering. The nursing home could and should have done more to prevent this tragedy.

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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