Woman Wanders from Assisted Living Facility, Drowns in Lake

An 84-year-old assisted living facility resident wandered away from her home and was found drowned in a lake. She had living at the facility for almost three years, according to a sheriff's report. She had been living in the rehabilitation center because of deteriorating health, but had been attending lunch recently as her health improved.

Witnesses at the facility reported seeing the woman around 1:45 p.m. Around 3 p.m. facility officials discovered she was missing.

After a search of the property, they found her body lying face down in a lake near the home. Facility officials called the sheriff's office and a deputy jumped in the water to pull the woman's body out. For more, read the story.

This story does not indicate if the woman was cognitively impaired. If she was, it is the assisted living facility's duty to prevent this sort of tragedy.

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.

Elopement occurs when a patient who lacks safety awareness leaves a nursing home or assisted living facility or a safe area within or outside the facility without the knowledge of the facility’s staff and without proper supervision. A patient who elopes is at risk of heat or cold exposure, dehydration, drowning, getting struck by a motor vehicle, and falling. Facility policies should clearly define the procedures for monitoring and managing patients at risk for elopement and otherwise minimize the risk that a patient will leave the facility or a safe area without authorization or appropriate supervision. In addition, the patient’s care plan should address the potential for elopement. A nursing home or assisted living facility’s disaster and emergency preparedness plan should include a plan to locate a missing patient who has eloped.

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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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