Police Dog Finds Wandering Assisted Living Facility Resident Asleep in Vacant Bed

A police dog led its handler to a happy ending after a resident of an assisted living facility went missing from her room.

Administrators of the assisted living center called police to help search for an 88-year-old woman with demetia. Staff had checked everywhere in the building that they thought she might be, police said. With bitingly low temperatures outside, the potential for injury or death was great had the woman somehow managed to get outside.

"There was a concern that she could be outside the facility," said a spokesman for the sheriff's office.

An officer and his bloodhound, Melanie, arrived at 1:30 a.m. and went to the woman's room. There, Melanie sniffed the woman's pillowcase, and started checking the building just to ensure nothing had been overlooked. Within a few hours, Melanie found the woman safely asleep in the bed of an unoccupied room.

"Many times these stories don't have the happy ending that this one did," noted the sheriff's office. "We were glad that she was found unharmed." Please see the complete story.

The outcome stands in stark contrast to a recent freezing death of a nursing home resident after the 89-year-old woman wandered outside in her flannel nightgown and bare feet. An aide has been arrested and charged with her death. She allegedly ignored the door alarm while watching television.See this story.

This assisted living facility is to be commended for involving the police immediately when they could not locate the wandering resident. 

Federal and state regulations do not require a nursing home or assisted living facility to use electronic wandering and elopement alarms. However, nursing home and assisted living facility standards of practice universally require them when a facility accepts patients at risk of wandering or elopement. These types of alarms are usually placed around the patient’s wrist or ankle. When a patient wearing the alarm leaves the facility or a safe area in or around the facility, a signal from the wrist or ankle unit sounds an exit alarm. Many nursing homes and assisted living facilities have electronic wandering and elopement alarms that will sound or signal at one or more nursing stations. When an alarm signals or sounds, staff respond to prevent the patient from wandering any further or eloping. Some types of alarms automatically lock exit doors when the patient approaches. The nursing home or assisted living facility should ensure all alarms are properly functioning at all times by performing routine tests and by repairing and replacing alarms and their components, including batteries, on a routine schedule.

In addition to safety alarms, nursing homes and assisted living facilities in Virginia should have a written “missing persons” policy and staff trained to implement the policy. The policy should identify who (e.g. staff, police, physician, family) is to be called and when.  Nursing homes and assisted living facilities should analyze all wandering and elopement incidents so that appropriate corrective action can be taken.  The facility should involve the medical director, who can help design and implement appropriate prevention measures.  The nursing home or assisted living facility should also ensure the facility is properly staffed at all times to prevent unsafe wandering and elopement. Safety devices like alarms help monitor a patient’s movement, but staff must respond to alarms in a timely manner for the alarms to have any benefit. Alarms do not replace good supervision by staff. Finally, lighting and environmental hazards should be identified and corrected because wandering or eloping residents are especially vulnerable to harm from these dangers.


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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