Nursing Home Aide Charged with Freezing Death of Wandering Resident

A nursing home employee watched three straight episodes of "Dog The Bounty Hunter" and "shrugged off " an alarm that indicated an 89-year-old woman with Alzheimer's disease had wandered outside into near-zero conditions early one morning, prosecutors said.

The woman's lifeless, frozen body later was found in the facility's courtyard after she had been outside for as many as five hours, prosecutors said, and now the employee, a nursing assistant, has been charged in connection with her death.

The aide, 23, was charged Tuesday with criminal neglect of a long-term-care facility resident, criminal neglect of an elderly person and obstruction of justice. If convicted, she faces up to 7 years in prison.

"She was expected to do her job. She was expected to make bed checks every two hours, and she didn't," the prosecutor said.

"The death of [the resident] was not an accident, but a pattern of neglect," the prosecutor said. "She was known by staff to be a wanderer and wore an ankle bracelet that reminded the staff."

He said nursing home protocol called for checks every two hours, and the aide is accused of lying about a 3 a.m. check she claimed she made on the resident.

Although an alarm sounded at a secure door during the middle of the night when the resident left the building, no nursing home employee checked on her, the prosecutor said, adding the outside temperature that morning was about 1 degree.

"[The aide] shrugged off the alarm and went back to watching TV," he said. For more about this tragic, yet preventable incident, please read the story.

The freezing death of this resident is shocking, especially since it was completely preventable. The nursing home had a warning alarm system in place, and it worked, but for the aide's criminal decision to ignore it.

A nursing home or assisted living facility is required to provide residents with a “safe and secure environment” using “adequate supervision and assistance devices to prevent accidents,” including injuries and death caused by unsafe wandering and elopement. 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.

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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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