Assisted Living Resident With Dementia Wanders Away From Supervised Outing, Found On Railraod Tracks

An assisted living facility was sued for negligence after a resident with dementia was discovered lying on train tracks and suffering from cold exposure eight hours after wandering off during a group field trip to a local high school concert.

The woman's guardian filed the suit against the assisted living facility and the home's activity director following the Dec. 2, 2007 incident.

The woman suffered from various psychological and physical conditions, severe dementia and Alzheimer's disease and required full-time supervision by staff, according to the lawsuit.

The home's activity director and an assistant took between seven and 10 residents to a concert at a high school, the suit said. After arriving at the high school, the woman wandered away unnoticed and was found approximately eight hours later just one mile away from the high school, lying on train tracks with visible injuries she had suffered from falling down and from being exposed to cold temperatures for an extended amount of time, the suit said. For more, 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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