Assisted Living Facility Patient Struck by Car and Killed after Wandering Away From Facility

An 81-year-old patient of an assisted living facility was hit by a car on a highway near the facility and killed.  According to witnesses, she walked onto the highway and into the side of a moving eighteen-wheeler.  She received severe head, arm, and leg injuries and was taken by helicopter to the hospital, where she later died.  The assisted living facility is less than one-half mile from the highway.

When interviewed, the assisted living facility's administrator declined comment on how the patient could have gotten out of the facility unescorted and without staff knowing she left, especially since the facility had an alarm system.  The state department of health services is investigating, but apparently this is not the first time recently that a patient wandered away (eloped) from the facility.  News reports reflect that last month a 65-year-old patient of the assisted living facility was reported by staff to be missing.  Thankfully, the patient was later located in a nearby neighborhood.  Read more about wandering (elopement) incidents at the assisted living facility.  

Patients are allowed to wander away (elope) from nursing homes and assisted living facilities because of failures of supervision and security.  Most wandering (elopement) incidents occur in nursing homes and assisted living facilities that are not equipped with alarm systems.  However, this facility had an alarm system.  Perhaps the staff just disarmed the alarm by cutting it off or muting the alarm.  Perhaps the staff was tired of hearing false alarms, which can occur when mobile patients get too close to exit doors. 

These false alarms are called "nuisance alarms."  "Nuisance alarms" are a fact of life in nursing homes and assisted living facilities that use alarm systems of any type, from alarms in beds and chairs that prevent falls to wander (elopement) alarms that notify staff when patients are about to leave the building.  However, the fact that nuisance alarms occur is never a good reason to disarm, cut off, or mute the alarms.  First, alarms can be purchased and programmed with different sensitivities and alarm features.  If one type of alarm creates too many "nuisance alarms", then staff can adjust the alarm or simply buy an alarm that better meets the needs of the patients and staff.  Second, facilities and their staff that disarm or mute alarms are risking the health and safety of those they are entrusted to protect.  There is no excuse for facilities and staff to elevate their own convenience above the welfare of the patients that need alarms.
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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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