Sister of Boxing Great Found Frozen to Death After Wandering Away from Assisted Living Facility

The 92-year-old sister of boxing great Joe Louis was recently found frozen to death outside of the assisted living facility at which she was a patient.  Louis' sister, who had Alzheimer's disease, was last seen on Sunday, February 17, 2008 and was found outside one day later dressed only in pajamas and wearing one shoe.  An autopsy confirmed she died of hypothermia.    Read the article about the death of Louis' sister. 

Police told the media there was "no indication of any crime" in connection with the death of Louis' sister.  That's using a rather narrow definition of the word "crime."  The crime here was committed by an assisted living facility that wasn't able to supervise and protect its patient.  If the facility wasn't able to keep her from wandering away (eloping), it never should have accepted her as a patient.  Instead, the facility should have told her family that she needed nursing home care and referred her to a facility that could meet her needs.  Once the assisted living facility accepted her care, though, it was required to do everything possible to protect her, including providing better supervision, alarms that alert staff of unauthorized attempts to leave, and an escort when away from the property.

I recently represented in Virginia the family of a demented female patient who was permitted to wander away (elope) from a Roanoke area nursing home, walk one mile from the facility along some train tracks, fall, and sustain serious injuries.  During the lawsuit against the nursing home's owners and operators, we discovered the nursing home had, in the years prior, permitted other patients to wander from the facility.  In response to these previous incidents, the nursing home never installed door alarms that would have alerted staff when patients attempted to exit.  The result at trial? The largest verdict in Virginia against a nursing home or assisted living facility for allowing one of its patients to wander away (elope).

My prayers go out to this patient's family.  Her brother will be remembered for how he lived -- as one of the best boxers in history.  She will perhaps be remembered for how she died -- outside, freezing, scared, and alone.  Her death should be a frequent reminder to nursing homes and assisted living facilities everywhere that wandering (elopement) injuries and deaths, as senseless, tragic, and preventable as they are, simply won't be tolerated!  We'll all remember Joe Louis.  Let's never forget his sister.
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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