Missing Patient's Family Sues Assisted Living Facility

The family of a demented 81 year-old man who disappeared from an assisted living facility recently sued the facility and its owner for failing to protect the man.  The man wandered away, or eloped, five years ago from the facility and has not been seen since.  Before he disappeared, the patient wandered away from the facility twelve additional times, according to an investigative report prepared by the state's department of health.  

In response to his risk of eloping, the facility increased his monthly assisted living facility expenses by $1,000 to pay a sitter to supervise him.  When the facility was reportedly unable to find any sitters, it recommended that the patient be transferred.  The patient disappeared the next day.  Read more about the patient's disappearance.

The state's assisted living industry criticized the family for admitting the man to an assisted living facility instead of a nursing home.  Interesting the industry representative didn't criticize the facility and its owner for accepting the care of a patient whose security needs it wasn't able to meet!  The industry representative also claimed that families are the ones who misrepresent patients' conditions in order to get their loved ones in the doors.  What about the facilities that misrepresent their ability to care for demented residents who are elopement risks just to fill a bed or attract a better paying client?  

If the facility wasn't able to protect the man from wandering away, it never should have accepted him as a patient.  Instead, it should have told the family that he needed nursing home care and referred him to a facility that could meet his needs.  Once the facility accepted his care, though, it was required to do everything possible to protect him, including providing at its own cost if necessary better supervision, alarms that alert staff of unauthorized attempts to leave, and an escort when away from the property.

I had the pleasure recently of representing the family of a demented female patient who was permitted to elope from a nursing home, fall on some train tracks miles away, and sustain serious injuries.  During the lawsuit, we discovered the Roanoke area nursing home's owners implemented a marketing program designed to attract private-pay patients like my clients because the facility made more profit from private-pay patients than from Medicaid or Medicare patients.  In order to implement its marketing plan, the nursing home's staff was to tell families the facility was safe, even though in years prior other patients had also been permitted to wander away and sustain injury.  In response, the nursing home's owners never installed an inexpensive alarm system that would have prevented all wandering patients from eloping.  The result at trial? -- the largest verdict in Virginia involving elopement from a nursing home.  Trust me -- after witnessing the patient's pain and the family's sorrow, the nursing home and its owners got what they deserved!  

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