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
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.